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By Dave Jones on October 6, 2006 in University

Marya Welch: First female faculty member in the physical education department, charged with setting up women's athletics programs; also served as dean of women

Good morning. I would like to thank Chancellor Vanderhoef, and all of you, for giving me this opportunity to talk with you.

I've been associated with UC Davis for almost 60 years. I remember that, back then, the UC president, Gordon Sproul, attended the convocations at all of the UC campuses. Of course, there were only four campuses to go to then.

I clearly remember coming to UC Davis as a new faculty member. My job was to set up a women's athletics program.

I was the first female faculty member in physical education at UC Davis, and only the ninth female faculty member hired at this campus. There were about 1,200 students, and only about 100 of them were women. But those women wanted the same thing that the male students wanted -- athletic programs that would challenge and interest them.

In that time, women's athletics was like a blank slate. There were no precedents for creating programs and no roadmaps for developing women athletes. Sixty years ago, at UC Davis, and in the rest of the country, there was a culture of exclusion of women in sports. Resources like facilities and funding for women's athletic programs didn't exist. And leaders were scarce. At that time, there were no women holding the top department chair positions in physical education at any university in this country -- not one.

I wonder sometimes why I chose this particular field. I had six or seven classes a day. I coached all the competitive sports for women -- tennis, basketball, swimming, softball and so on. I never had to plan any exercise on my own because I was constantly running from class to class! My tennis students had to sweep the leaves off the two asphalt courts the campus had. Practices were set in second priority to the men's teams.

But the fact is, I did choose this field, and I fought against many obstacles. Why? Partly because I am a competitor myself. I want women athletes to be able to compete on the very highest level. I also want women to enjoy all of the other things that go with being active -- lifelong social and movement skills.

I love teaching and coaching, too. I hope I have passed along my philosophy to the many young women I taught in my time at UC Davis. It is the way I live my life today.

I believe that sport is really about the way you live:

  • Be well-prepared
  • Be fair
  • Respect your competition
  • And measure your success by goals you set for yourself, not whether you win or lose.

I'm very proud of what has been accomplished for women athletes. The state of women's athletics is vastly improved. There is more work to be done, to be sure. So for those of you who may feel this calling, there are women like me who have paved the way for you. But more importantly, there are women yet to come who are counting on you.

Presented here are the speaker's prepared remarks.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,