There is the sound of a cello. Soft, slow, somber, it fills the room, which is bright with polished chrome and glass and white paint and overhead lights that cast no shadows. It is a large, high room with a gigantic mirror that rises almost to the ceiling. Standing before the mirror is a girl in black tights, a member of the Penn State gymnastics team. She is poised on the toes of one leg as if about to pirouette. She stares at her image, her arms in a halo around her head, her legs forming a perfect figure 4, and then, slowly, she begins to turn.
Across the room, near parallel bars that catch light and images and reflect them in silver slivers, a teammate is tying a heavy towel around her stomach, which has begun to swell from the force with which it whacks the bars during her routine.
The coach, a tall woman named Judi Avener, waits at the end of a 75-foot mat. She taps her toe impatiently and calls out, "Anytime, Karen." At the other end of the strip a girl who looks too heavy to be a gymnast and a little too soft is standing, head lowered and eyes closed as if lost in the sounds of the cello. Her arms are rigid at her sides, fists clenched and legs pressed tightly together.
"Whenever, Karen," calls the coach, who was an All-America gymnast at Springfield College at the age of 21. The girl, Karen Schuckman, was an Olympic-class gymnast at 15. For 10 years her life was consumed by her sport, until, at 16, she retired from competition. She returned to gymnastics when she enrolled at Penn State in 1973 as an East Asian Studies major, and in the fall of '74 became one of 17 women to be granted athletic scholarships, the first such scholarships in the school's history. As a freshman, Karen Schuckman was undefeated in collegiate gymnastics. She is the most visibly successful of all Penn State's women athletes and the first to receive national recognition. She thinks little of her achievement. "We used to laugh at college gymnastics when I was 14," she says.
March 9, 1975
Schuckman raises her head and opens her eyes. The coach steps off the mat. Schuckman stares down the runway at the leather horse that her coach has been leaning against. And then, suddenly, she is off, racing toward the horse with lengthening strides, building speed, her eyes wide, her mouth open and pulled back and down into her jaw. When she reaches the horse she leaps—aided in flight by her coach's supporting hands on her stomach—and performs a not-quite-perfect handspring about five feet above the horse, landing on a padded mat on the other side. She thuds down on her heels with such force that the shock travels up the spine of a bystander.
Once she leaves the gymnastics room dressed in rumpled corduroy slacks and a Capezio T shirt, Karen Schuckman seems to diminish in size from the girl who spilled out of her purple tights and appeared too big for gymnastics. She seems to have grown slack, to have lost her tenseness, all of that steely drawing up of mental and physical resources so evident when she is performing her routines. She walks about the Penn State campus with a deferential slouch, eyes down, as if, by not seeing, she could become invisible. Though her sport demands an extremely strong ego, she appears to lack self-confidence. She brushes off her successes at Penn State, as if embarrassed by them.
"I don't think gymnastics is very healthy for your body," she says. "It puts unnatural stresses and strains on you. My back has been bothering me lately. But when you turn upside down like that you get a terrific rush of blood to your head. It produces a physical high. That's the thing I remember as a child. I used to love the feeling I got when I stood on my head or hung upside down from a tree limb or did cartwheels. The mental part comes later. The satisfaction from beating someone. That's when it starts to mess you up."
In 1972 Karen was competing for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. Her days and nights were filled with gymnastics. After school she traveled for an hour from her home in West Hartford, Conn. to New Haven, where she taught gymnastics for two hours to children younger than herself. "The feeling is that by teaching others you learn why you do things," she says. After those sessions, Karen practiced for four hours, seldom arriving home before 11 p.m. On weekends she competed in various AAU events around the country. She was the AAU Junior National Champion when she was in the ninth grade.
"I don't think it was very conducive to the psychological health of a 13-year-old," Schuckman says now. "It would have been hard on anyone, much less a young girl. I was always worn out physically. My parents didn't think the atmosphere was healthy. There were a lot of far-out people in the sport. They were mostly older. People I had strong feelings for were 10 years older than I was. My first boyfriend was 23. I was 15. I looked at my friends in school and saw what they were doing and realized what a warped social life I had. As a young kid you don't understand what's happening, how you got there, the route you took. You know only that you started to do it because it was fun and then you had a guide who led you and you just followed."
Like most athletes of Olympic caliber, Schuckman first discovered the extent of her talent as a pre-teen. She was told she had a greater gift than she realized, but that it could be fulfilled only if she surrendered unquestioningly into a coach's hands. When Schuckman acquiesced at the age of 10, her coaches (she had two became the dominant force in her life and remained so for the next six years. Such relationships between young girls and their coaches are common in Olympic circles and usually result in the athlete developing an emotional dependence that transcends sport. If that coach is a man, as was the case with Anne Henning, the Olympic speed skater, he may become like a father.
Karen Schuckman's coach from 13 to 16 was Muriel Davis Grossfeld, who has a reputation for being a severe taskmaster. Asked about her three years under Grossfeld, Schuckman only says, "Muriel has all kinds of reputations and I don't want to contribute to them either way. She's wonderful at getting the best out of you. She derives a great satisfaction from coaching, only I'm not sure where that satisfaction really derives from."
For several years Karen found it pleasant to surrender the distracting and minor details of her daily life to Grossfeld's custodianship, but as she matured and grew more assertive the two came into conflict. "Muriel is a very dominating person," says Karen in an unguarded moment. "She wants to be the controlling force in your life. She didn't like it when I started having friends outside of the sport. It was then that I began to question what I was doing." Karen's estrangement grew and she became disenchanted with her Olympic quest. During the 1972 Olympic Trials she was emotionally drained and suffering from a painful back but nonetheless was being considered at least as an Olympic alternate. However, her more independent life-style had attracted the disfavor of what she calls "important political figures in gymnastics. They didn't like the image I was projecting. I was told that if I reformed my image I might make the team. At that point I just wanted to go home and forget the whole thing. It had been so much fun at first. I quit."
Karen enrolled at Penn State a year later with only a vague intention of returning to gymnastics. In fact, one of the reasons she chose Penn State was that "its women's team was crummy." In her freshman year it was apparent that there would be little pressure on her so she resumed gymnastic competition. "I finally got things together," she says. "I love the sport and was so glad I could get another chance. It gave me the opportunity to be self-motivated, to start my career over when I was much less likely to be led astray. College is such a good place to be right now. It's fun to be able to do something that your body's good at and which gives people enjoyment to watch. It would be nice to have the same quality of gymnastics in college as before, but without the Olympic pressure. But I'm more interested in the sport now as an esthetic rather than a competitive thing. I want to get into professional dancing. I'm working with a group of musicians who have developed the score for my freestyle routines. The music is as important as my gymnastics. Each enhances the other.
"There's no pressure at Penn State to produce a national championship or anything like that. At least there hasn't been up till now. The feeling among women is that scholarships give us a chance to compete and go to school for free. I'm not really involved in women's sports here; my attitude sort of divorces me from it. But I've had a lot to do with upgrading women's sports at the university because I'm the first to stand out as an athlete. I get publicity and recognition equal to any athlete here. They've used me, too. They made me an All-America at Penn State, the first time ever for a woman."
Last week, three months after Karen Schuckman had thought she "was changing sport at Penn State just by being what I am," she found herself wondering if that indeed was so. The pressure to win suddenly had become severe. "The coach is pushing my development unnaturally," she said. "Penn State wants to be champion."
Sherri Landes, the shooter, is sprawled on the concrete floor of the rifle range. She has not moved a muscle in eight seconds. Her spine is arched backward, her chest about eight inches off the floor. In her arms, fondled with real tenderness, is a .22-caliber rifle. She focuses her right eye on a target 50 feet away, a bull's-eye on a square of paper the size of a dinner napkin. The bull's-eye looms so large and fuzzy in her sight that she cannot see its outer circles but only two inner circles and the core itself, a spot the size of a bottle cap. Staring through the gunsight, she reaches up with her right hand to make an adjustment. The circles constrict and the spot shrinks to a clean dark dot no bigger than a match head.
More seconds pass and still the shooter has hardly twitched. She can hold this pose perfectly because of her shooter's jacket, which is so tightly fitted she can buckle it only by sucking in her stomach until it hurts. It restricts every movement save one: when she raises her arms into a firing position it helps to lock her shoulders in place, so that she can be motionless without being wearied by the rifle's 16 pounds. Her hair is pinned in a bun and her ears are covered by plastic earmuffs resembling an aviator's headset. After 15 seconds Sherri Landes stops breathing. She does not draw a breath for eight more seconds, until finally she fires. She does not hear the rifle's pop nor the sound of the ejected shell casing tinkling like glass on the concrete, nor does she see the spray of sand kicked up behind the target, nor smell the burned sulphur of the cartridge. She is conscious only of the tiny pinprick that appears [1/20] of an inch to the right of the dot after she squeezes the trigger. She sighs, relaxes, but still holds her pose. She talks to herself in whispers, "Nice, girl.... Nice shot...," rearranges her weight on the floor, rotates her neck and shifts her shoulders inside the jacket. Then she grows still again and prepares for her next shot.
After 10 shots (there are that many small bull's-eyes on each target paper) the shooter pushes a button and the target moves toward her on a long wire, a piece of wash drawn in on a clothesline. Picking the target from the wire, she examines it and stands up. She takes off her earmuffs and for the first time becomes conscious of the loud pops echoing around her and the ejected shells falling on the concrete as the other members of the Penn State rifle team—most of them men—practice in this small, square, low-ceilinged room equipped with 10 firing lanes, like a bowling alley.
Sherri Landes picks bobby pins from her hair and it falls below her shoulders. She unbuckles her jacket and lets out a whoosh of breath. "I've got to lose some weight," she says. "I'm out of shape. Do you know it cost me $30 just to have this jacket fitted right? The tailor had such trouble he swore he'd never do it again." She gestures with her head toward her teammates. "I've got three times more equipment than they do. I don't know, I clean out my locker but the pile seems to grow. They mostly use the school's rifles. I have my own. It's worth $400. I keep it under my bed at home sometimes. I'm always cleaning it and playing with it. It's so pretty! I love my rifle! I'm different, I guess. I'm not like them. They're just on the rifle team. I'm a shooter."
The following morning, Sherri Lynn Landes, a 19-year-old sophomore, has breakfast at the Nittany Lion Inn. Her eyelids are slightly blued and she is wearing lipstick. "It was the most natural thing in the world for me to pick up a gun," she says. "My father was a member of the Pennsylvania high-power rifle team in 1965. When I was six he used to take me to meets and I used to shoot tin cans with a BB gun. I couldn't cock it, though. A man always had to help me. Everyone thought I was cute. I guess it was just a way of getting attention then. But my interest in the sport lasted, I've been a shooter ever since.
"There weren't any girls in my neighborhood. I played kickball and basketball with the guys. Guys can do such neat stuff, can't they? Girls are always being told they can't do this or that, we might get hurt. A shooter was one of my buddies until I started beating him in matches. Then he got into cars. I feel kind of bad about him, destroying a male ego and all.
"I don't consider myself a very feminine person, you know. I mean, when I put on my gear I look like a guy. I act like a guy. I never thought much about being a girl until I came to Penn State. They wouldn't give me a scholarship because they said they didn't give scholarships to guys in riflery, so why a girl. I said, why not? Football players get scholarships and girls can't play football, so we ought to be given scholarships in other sports. Last year I had the highest shooting average on both the guys' and the girls' teams. I tried to get on the men's team as a freshman. They said no and sent me to the girls' team. I wasn't very motivated there. I'd consider it an insult to be beaten by a girl! I've been beating guys for years. Anyway, I had a match average of 277 out of a possible 300, which was about three points lower than I should have had. That average was better than anyone's on the guys' team, though. This year the rules were changed. The girls' team was eliminated, which means a lot of women are not shooting. Only two others have made the guys' traveling team.
"I love the competition and the people, but most of all it's a matter of personal pride. You can see yourself getting better, approaching 300, the perfect score. It's possible to be perfect. And you can match your scores with anyone throughout the world. People think to be a great shooter you need terrific eyesight, but you don't. You just line up that circle with the sight, that's all. However, if you're shooting outside, the wind affects the shot. Usually you pick a prevailing condition, like a northeast gust or something, and adjust your sight for that and then wait until it comes before you fire. Some people have wind gauges like tiny windmills. Mostly, though, a good shooter needs reflexes, hand-to-eye coordination. And concentration. I go into a fog when aiming. The concentration is so deep I won't remember shooting at the target. You feel no sensation. It's as if you are dead. You stop breathing because breathing throws off the shot. Everything slows down, your heart, blood, head. Even when you're loading or adjusting sights you do it slowly, methodically. You get into a pattern, doing everything the same way on every shot. And when you finally stop and look at the target, you say, 'My God, how did I shoot that! It's a perfect pinwheel, a perfect 10!' When you're thinking about shooting or aiming you're not concentrating. When you hit a 10 you remember nothing.
"A rifle can get on your nerves if you're not controlled. Rifle people tend to be tolerant, easygoing, not hotheads. We enjoy life. Before a meet we lounge around and talk, mostly garbage about shooting. We don't eat, drink soda or coffee, or smoke. Nothing that'll give us energy or make us nervous. No physical activity at all. You want to drain your energy away. Some guys swear they shoot best while hung over; they're completely relaxed, mentally exhausted. If a person is too physically fit he tends to muscle a rifle, which is bad. That's why girls are able to be better shooters than guys. You give a guy a rifle and he grabs it right away to show he's a man. Girls don't do that; they cradle a rifle, hold it gently. They're a little afraid of rifles because they don't pick them up as kids. Also, women benefit considerably from having a lower center of balance.
"Guys tend to choke in competition. They shoot well in practice and then just fall apart. There's unbelievable pressure in a match. I love it. I shoot better in a match than in practice. Girls generally do. We have less to lose in competition. We're not supposed to win. But a guy, well, he's got his ego and all. He must prove he's a man when he shoots. That makes him choke. That's why, when I shoot against guys, I like to compete right alongside my toughest opponents. If you're a girl and you look like you know what you're doing it really freaks 'em out. They watch and get upset and I just go methodically through my pattern. Beating guys turns me on.
"My language deteriorates during a match. It's from shooting with older guys during the summer, men who work with their hands—electricians, carpenters, masons, crude guys, I guess. They're not high-strung, like executive types who could never be shooters. Those people are unable to relax. They shoot while still thinking about their jobs. The earthy guys work from 9 to 5 and that's it. They don't take their jobs to matches. Also they tend to work with machines and a rifle's just a machine. A beautiful machine! It amazes me. Everything on it is so necessary, practical. Pistols scare me, I don't like to touch them. They're weapons. My rifle, now, it's just like a golf club to me. It's something I use to throw bullets at a target. Whenever I pick it up, I think target, not kill. Why, if someone broke into my room at night, it wouldn't even occur to me to pick up my rifle to scare him off."
Big Gloe is pacing herself. It is only the second week of basketball practice and she does not want to peak too soon. "I'm testing the freshmen," she says.
Last year as a junior, Gloria Moyher, a 21-year-old forward, played regularly on Penn State's scholarship-free women's varsity basketball team. This season, with the arrival of talented freshmen, two of whom received athletic scholarships, Moyher finds herself relegated to the bench. "Sixth man, maybe seventh," she says. "And I don't like it."
Before practice begins each afternoon at White gymnasium, Gloe dribbles off to an unoccupied corner basket and practices alone. She is wearing low-cut white sneakers, high striped sweat socks, red shorts and a blue T shirt with U.S. MARINE CORPS stenciled across the front. She is big, solidly built, yet without the well-defined muscles of a man. She stands almost 5'10" and weighs 150 pounds. She delivers such information without a blush or a pause, as any athlete would. And unlike many tall women, she does not slouch. In fact, she carries herself so upright that she seems to strain for additional height.
Her prepractice routine seldom varies. She stands at the foul line with her back to the basket. She pauses and then fakes left and dribbles right. She stops 10 feet from the basket and pulls up for a jump shot. Her feet barely leave the court. She pushes the ball off the heel of her palm, rather than flicking it off her fingertips. The ball rotates slowly in an extremely high arc before it falls straight down, swish, through the basket.
During intersquad scrimmages she moves cautiously. Lumbering is the word that best describes her pace. Gloe cannot instantly halt or alter the direction of her momentum. Possibly her slowness stems from thinking a great deal on the court rather than just cutting and driving, as does Pat Daley, a freshman on scholarship. Daley is tall and spindly, with pigtails that stick out comically from the sides of her head. She does not look like an athlete, certainly not as much as Gloe does, and yet in high school Daley was a high jumper, sprinter and basketball player. Scrimmaging now, she is in perpetual motion, driving, feeding off, rebounding, penetrating, always forcing the action, generating momentum without thinking. "She's hustling a lot more than I am," says Gloe. "I'm just biding my time."
Gloe comes to life only briefly during the scrimmage. At one point she finds herself at the foul line, her back to the basket, a smaller opponent guarding her. She calls out for the ball, gets it, pauses, fakes left, drives right, pulls up, swish.
At 21, with her athletic career about to come to a close, Gloria Moyher finds herself a modestly talented athlete who, given different circumstances, might have become very good (never great, however, since she moves too slowly and deliberately). Still, she is not what she could have been. As a young girl, she competed equally with boys her own age. She was welcomed in their games because, as the boys put it, "You are as good as any of us."
"I played sports in a casual way," she says. "I never thought of training all year round for one sport. I played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the summer. I just followed the cycle the way any kid does."
When she reached her teens, Gloe found that while the boys her age were being encouraged to continue in sports, she was being discouraged. Her high school had no interscholastic athletic program for girls. Without competition, her talent, which up till then had kept pace with that of boys, began to fade.
"I'm always before my time," she says. "After I graduated from high school a good girls' athletic program was established. When I first came to Penn State there was no emphasis on women's sports. The philosophy then was women compete in sport to have fun, to make friends and at all times to be a lady. 'Oh, excuse me for stepping on your foot, dear!' That kind of thing. Now that I'm graduating, women are being given athletic scholarships and the thinking is, women can compete on a highly skilled level. We can't be as skilled as men but we can achieve a certain degree of proficiency compatible to our bodies. Success in men's sports is supposed to be measured by the degree of skill they achieve. Actually, I think it's measured by gate receipts.
"That's one of the hassles women will have to avoid. For example, our basketball team is scheduled to play in the Steel Bowl tournament prior to the men's games. We are to be used as a gimmick to get people to go see the men play. I think scholarships for women athletes are good as long as their purpose is to give someone an opportunity to go to school who couldn't afford it. I don't think of them as being used to buy talent to make money for the school.
"I'll be graduated soon and commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marines. It's possible I'll even have men under my command. But so far as sports is concerned, it's all come too late."
The fencer, a gangling young woman, lunges wildly at her smaller opponent. The opponent wards off the thrust and parries with a disdainful backhand flick of the foil. She rips off her cagelike mask and jams it in her armpit. "I will not have that," she says in measured tones. "Do you understand? I will not have my girls fencing that way." She is a woman who finds comfort in neatly trimmed edges and so clips off the final letter of every word with a precise snip. The student nods. Her opponent is Beth Cramer, the coach of the women's team. Cramer is a rigidly upright woman, very attractive in a Town and Country, Hunt Club way—no makeup, trim, athletic and sturdy, very sturdy. She taps her foil on the floor of the gymnasium and says, "I am serious. If you persist I will not fence you in a bout." She pulls her webbed mask from under her arm, flips it over her face and assumes her stance.
Watching from the sidelines, Lisa Geisler, a 20-year-old political-science and Russian major and the squad's No. 1 fencer, says, "No one calls her Beth. It's Mrs. Cramer. She's very proper. When the team goes away to fence we have to dress accordingly. We must represent the school in a dignified manner, Mrs. Cramer says. Once at an airport we were asked if we were from a convent." While talking, Lisa Geisler is poised in the aristocratic, almost haughty, stance of a fencer. Her mask is tucked under one arm, while the other arm is extended from her body, the hand limp as if about to be kissed. In it she holds her foil like a brittle cane, its tip balanced lightly on the floor. Her feet are curiously parted as if she were preparing to walk both north and west at the same time.
Like the others, she is wearing a chest protector, basketball shorts and striped sweat socks. She is well-built, with exceptionally strong legs. "Mrs. Cramer won't fence us if we don't have a good style," she continues. "Even if we can win in a bout, Mrs. Cramer still won't put us out there if we'll embarrass her. That's what first attracted me to fencing—the style and the strategy. There's nothing instinctive about it. Those who fence on instinct can do only so well and after that their instincts won't do what quick thinking will. Smart people make the best fencers on the strip. For instance, one of our squad is a classics major, an exceedingly tough discipline."
Lisa Geisler is going to be a lawyer. "Fencing is a courtroom," she says. She has an academic average of 3.8 out of a possible 4.0.
"Some fencers are prima donnas," she says. "They look arrogant when they come out on the strip. You have to stay on the mat when fencing, which limits your movements to just forward and backward. If you step off the mat you're penalized. Fencing is very controlled. Sometimes, though, I'd like to go into an empty room with an opponent and have it out, like Errol Flynn. To some extent there is a blood and death attraction to the sport, though the foils are tipped and electrified. Mrs. Cramer makes us control that feeling, however. We're not encouraged to cheer when we score a touch, or cry out at a thrust, or even weep if we lose a bout. Everything must be contained. Occasionally I'll be struck by an opponent and she'll exclaim, 'Et!l√†!' And I wonder if at that moment she really isn't thinking, 'Kill!'
"I have trouble with wild opponents. They tend to draw me out. The men fencers at Penn State are not as controlled as we are. They use their strength and speed more, project it into the foil. They try to dominate physically. They're wilder coming onto the strip and have a different attitude. We look at fencing as a sport, as a matter of style, a way of improving ourselves. They look at it as a way to dominate, and the best approach when starting out is to hack away. The men prefer to win even at a loss of style. For us, style comes first. It's not really a man-woman thing. It's more a competition of styles. Ours is the style of the French masters. I worked with such a master and he taught me fine moves and controlled finger work. The better men fencers use this method. That's why I wouldn't like to see the men's and women's teams integrated. I like our approach better.
"We only fence the men for practice. We can normally hold our own against them. They don't get scholarships and neither do we. They didn't want them. I think we might be getting some soon although Mrs. Cramer worries that scholarships will cause friction among the girls. That's also why she seldom lets us fence each other. If we compete among ourselves we might not get along. I know a few girls who would like to knock me off, and I'd like the chance to put them in their place.
"I didn't fence before I came here and I probably won't be fencing after I leave. There really aren't that many opportunities for fencers unless you live near big cities, like Philly. Besides, if I wanted to continue, say to make the Olympic team, I'd have to give up everything for four or five years—a fencer usually doesn't reach a peak until 30—and I'm not willing to do that."
Cramer summons Lisa Geisler to the strip. Lisa assumes her stance. Her knees are slightly bent, as if she is half contemplating sitting down. The foils cross, and then there is the quick click of steel as the bout commences. The women move slowly at first, their foil tips making small circles in the air, then darting forward, being parried with a click, retreating, making circles again, until finally Geisler takes the offensive. She advances on her coach amid the sounds of slashed air and clicking steel and the rhythmic pa-ti-ta-ta-ta-TAT of feet slapping the mat. The final TAT comes on a strong lunge that causes the muscles in Geisler's thighs to quiver and propels her blade directly into Cramer's chest. "Good attack!" Cramer says. Now it is Geisler who is retreating and Cramer who is advancing. They continue to draw one another backward then forward on the mat as if their foils were magnetized, as if both were puppets drawn by the same hand in a meticulously choreographed ballet amid the slashing of air, the clicking of steel and the rhythmic slapping of feet.
In Lock Haven, Pa. on Saturday morning everyone eats the big breakfast, Egg McMuffin at McDonald's. One chill, misty morning last fall when the citizens arrived there at dawn as is their custom, they found dozens of women similarly dressed—white blouses with Peter Pan collars, plaid kilts and Adidas soccer shoes with plastic cleats that clattered on the tile floor like a thousand castanets. Waiting in line, the young women chatted with animation while leaning on field-hockey sticks. They represented various Pennsylvania colleges that had come to town to compete in a tournament whose first game that morning would begin at 8:30. Each team would play five games that day. At lunch, when they would be given an hour break, the women, hockey sticks over their shoulders like rifles, would walk the three-quarters of a mile back to McDonald's and then return to the field for the afternoon contests.
The hockey field, carved out of the mountains like the town itself, is walled in on three sides by jagged rock. A mist hovered like a lid over the field early in the morning. From the sidelines the women appeared like black shadows moving against the backdrop of rising mountains. It wasn't until shafts of sunlight broke through and fanned out across the grass that the athletes were illuminated, if only for a fleeting moment, as they raced through beams of light in pursuit of the ball.
The games were played in an eerie half silence punctuated by the clack of stick against stick as opposing women fought to dig the ball out of the corners. They grunted and sweated, jostled one another amid warnings—"Keep your stick down, please!"—until finally, with a whack, one of them propelled the ball downfield. There was a sudden pounding of feet as the teams thundered after the ball, converging on a solitary goalie, gnomelike in her pads, small and defenseless in the net. The racing girls' legs churned like those of cyclists, their skirts flouncing like dancers', and yet, curiously, their upper bodies were held stiff, almost regal, heads up.
The teams were watched by a few dozen spectators, mostly resting players sprawled on blankets, sipping cups of coffee that they cradled in both hands. Occasionally, someone cheered: "Nicely cut, Peggy, nicely cut!" The cheers were rarely directed at any one team but usually at a well-executed maneuver by an individual player regardless of her team. In fact, the purpose of this tournament was not to bestow a championship but rather to pick the best players for an all-star team.
The most partial observers at each game were the coaches, one of whom had a decidedly English accent. Gillian Rattray of Penn State, a tanned, trim woman of 40, was dressed in a pantsuit, and she followed the action along the sidelines, walking casually, arms folded across her chest as if taking a stroll through her native countryside. She always trailed the action. Occasionally, she called out an exhortation—"Fight, ladies, fight!"—in a quiet voice that carried across the misty field but contained little of the sense of urgency and admonishment that was in the phrase. Her chidings were like those of a slightly miffed schoolmistress.
It was Rattray who suggested that the women walk to McDonald's for lunch after some had played three games that morning. "The exercise will be good for them," she said, with only a faint grin. "Keep them from getting stiff before the afternoon contests." The women accepted the rationale without complaint and took off cheerfully. Unlike most men in varsity sports, women, it seems, do not expect special considerations such as transportation and team meals. Nor do their coaches.
One night, for instance, Rattray was eating dinner in a well-known restaurant near the Penn State campus when a waiter approached, cleared his throat and, looking embarrassed, informed her that Joe Paterno had just entered the restaurant. "Isn't that nice?" she said, returning to her meal.
"You don't understand," the waiter said. "He's the football coach. This is his table."
"Well, aren't we lucky then, sitting at his table."
"He always eats dinner on Thursdays at this table," added the waiter. "Would you move to another one?"
Rattray smiled. "You are kidding!" she said pleasantly. It was only when the waiter persisted that Rattray's companion found it necessary to inform him only half in jest that the lady was the field-hockey coach, a position which certainly took precedence over that of a mere football coach. Finally, the waiter retreated. Recalling that moment, Rattray smiles and, without rancor, says, "Can you imagine? Isn't that a scream?" Pausing, she adds, "Poor Joe."
One of Penn State's performers in the Lock Haven tournament was Barbara Doran, a 21-year-old senior halfback from the Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore who would eventually be picked for the Mideast All-Star team. Doran is one of three seniors on the Penn State hockey team to be given athletic scholarships in their final year. She also plays lacrosse, a sport she describes in esthetic terms—"constantly flowing, airborne, beautiful"—and once played on the Penn State basketball team but quit because of "personality clashes."
Perfectly at ease, Doran sits Indian-style on the sofa of a motel room in Lock Haven. She has a figure that tends toward the hourglass, popular during the '50s, rather than the pencil so prominent today, which might explain why she is dressed in a bulky sweat shirt, baggy carpenter's overalls and laborer's orange shoes. Her face, like her figure, is pretty in a '50s way—large brown eyes, upturned nose, easy smile and, generally, the kind of soft, undistinctive good looks one remembers in Annette Funicello, Connie Francis and a thousand all-American cheerleaders, which, in high school, she was. "I'm very competitive," she says. "In high school the most competitive field open to girls was the cheer-leading squad. I was the captain. I went steady with the football hero. He really was a nice guy."
Although her voice softens and she seems to blush, Barbara further claims that she is aggressive. As proof she cites her continued harassment, since freshman year, of the Penn State athletic department and the campus newspaper about their attitudes toward women in sport. Doran first espoused the cause in high school.
"I was more prominent as a cheerleader than as an athlete," she says. "In the afternoon I'd play field hockey or basketball before a few spectators and then rush home, put on my makeup and go cheer for the boys' teams before big crowds. I started to complain that the boys' teams had all the opportunities. I'd say to my coach, Miss Peck, a very demanding, aggressive woman, "Why can't we have this or that?' and she'd say, 'We're not allowed to, that's all.' That really surprised me. Women coaches were always fierce with us, and yet they accepted second-rate status from the school administration and seemed timid around men.
"Anyway, in my senior year we finally got the opportunity to go to Europe for three weeks on a field-hockey tour. That's when I had my first fight with my boyfriend. Would you believe he had the guts to say we didn't deserve to go, that the football players should go, instead, because they're the ones who went out and sweated. That just burned me, the idea that girls don't—or shouldn't—sweat in sports. Women do tend to emphasize skill, finesse and grace rather than brute strength. Lacrosse, for example, is a graceful game when played by women and bears little or no resemblance to the more physical lacrosse that men play.
"Anyway, I got this reputation in high school. I figured things would change when I got to Penn State, liberal attitudes, and all. But after a few months I realized it was no different. I'm a creative-writing major so I began by sending letters to the sports editor asking why there were nine varsity women's sports and no coverage of them in the school paper. None of my letters were published, so I finally went looking for the editor. I made sure I was very sweet—'Oh, is the sports editor here, by any chance?' And there he was, a little rat hunched over a typewriter. It was cordial; we didn't want to antagonize one another. He said there wasn't sufficient interest in women's sports, and besides he only had five guys on the staff and no women reporters. I said, 'Why not put a guy on women's sports?' He looked at me and said, 'We have our ego, you know!' Well, finally I got a letter published by having a male friend of mine sign his name. By then I was getting so obsessed with the whole thing, I forgot what my purpose was. I took out an ad in the paper. I paid for it, thanking the sports staff for their inspiring, in-depth coverage of the Lady Lion lacrosse team, referring to the two four-line stories that had appeared that season. The paper offered to do an article on women's sports if I'd withdraw the advertisement. I refused."
Doran says the situation at Penn State has changed considerably since. The women now receive full coverage in the campus newspaper and, like male athletes, they are being given scholarships, although certainly not as many. And yet, Doran hopes scholarships will not bring with them the attendant pressures to win titles, in fact, that women's programs will not be run on the same level as the men's. She wants only that Penn State women be allowed to compete on an organized, proficient level.
Perhaps, after all, she is not the aggressive person she believes she is. She may be confusing as aggression merely a healthy and highly developed ego. Aggression, such as Bobby Fischer's drive to crush an opponent's ego, must find its fulfillment in another's destruction, but Barbara Doran seeks only recognition in her own right, at no other's expense.
"A philosophy like Bobby Fischer's may be why we've survived through the centuries," she says, "but it's not why women play sports. I never start a game thinking about winning or losing. I believe women have been right all these years. Sports is for personal human growth."