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The 1977 UD field hockey team, with Mary Ann Hitchens pictured on the far right.
The 1977 UD field hockey team, with Mary Ann Hitchens pictured on the far right.

50 years of women’s athletics

Photos by Delaware Athletics

UD celebrates half-century of intercollegiate sports for women

Mary Ann Hitchens was an athlete through and through. Before Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 spurred unprecedented growth in women’s sports throughout the United States, Hitchens was a four-year letter winner in three separate high school sports: field hockey, basketball and softball.

But when she attended the University of Delaware in the late 1960s, she wasn’t able to compete in interscholastic athletics; the school didn’t provide any of those opportunities to women. After graduating with her physical education degree, it became her life’s work, as both a coach and an administrator for 37 years, to bring those opportunities to Blue Hen women.

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The 2019-20 Delaware athletics season will be a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of women’s athletics at the University of Delaware. With different events and digital content, the Athletic Department will showcase the incredible accomplishments of Blue Hen women in the last half-century.

Women’s athletics had humble beginnings at UD in 1969. Just three sports, selected by a student interest survey, were initially offered: basketball, field hockey and swimming. Each team had a budget of $500 for the entire year and the coaches offered their time without extra pay.

“It didn’t matter, because the whole overriding atmosphere was how excited everybody was to have the opportunity to finally compete, because we had been wanting it for so long,” Hitchens said.

The 2016 UD field hockey team won the NCAA championship — the first in the program’s history — by defeating the University of North Carolina, 3-2, in Norfolk, Virginia.
The 2016 UD field hockey team won the NCAA championship — the first in the team's history — by defeating the University of North Carolina, 3-2, in Norfolk, Virginia.

From the days of Hitchens and her teams having to pack sandwiches on road trips in the first days of intercollegiate competition, to UD alumna Elena Delle Donne leading the 2019 WNBA MVP race, women's athletics at Delaware has shown tremendous growth in the last 50 years.

Through all that change, what has remained constant is the level of excellence Blue Hen women have shown on and off the field of competition. Just as the women’s lacrosse team strung together three national championships from 1981-83 (two AIAW, one NCAA), the field hockey team conquered Louisville, Duke, Princeton and North Carolina en route to the 2016 national championship.

The 1982-83 UD women’s swimming team.
The 1982-83 UD women’s swimming team.

Delaware continues to push women’s opportunities in sport forward. According to a 2018 study by Higher Education Publications, Inc., just 12% of athletic directors at Division I schools were women. The Blue Hens are led by Chrissi Rawak, herself a swimmer at the University of Michigan from 1988-92.

One thing that has always been prevalent at Delaware, from Hitchens through Rawak, has been an undeniable pride to be a Blue Hen.

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In 2012, the UD women's basketball team won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship.

“There was just so much pride that went with it all; for the University and for athletics,” Hitchens said. “Overwhelming pride to have been able to be a part of helping to make it happen. Certainly not a one-person deal, there were so many people that had to pitch in and help, including the early student-athletes and coaches, they were all totally committed.” 

“I feel like pride is definitely something that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here. It’s just a really special place,” Rawak said. “What really attracted me to being here was the possibility and opportunity to continue to build on the wonderful things that have taken place here, both from an academic perspective and an athletic perspective.”

During the celebration of 50 years of growth and achievement in women’s athletics, the UD community near and far looks forward to what incredible things Blue Hen women will do in the next 50 years.

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The UD women's lacrosse team won the NCAA title in 1983.

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