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Testing The Waters

May 07, 2012
May 07, 2012

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May 7, 2012

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Testing The Waters

Given one of the first scholarships, in swimming, Sharon Berg made it count

If Mark Spitz, who trained at the Santa Clara (Calif.) Swim Club, could win seven Olympic medals in 1972, Sharon Berg, a towheaded teen who excelled in the 200-meter butterfly and the 200 freestyle at the same club, decided she could win eight in '76. Bergie 8, Bergie 8 became the mantra she used to push herself in practice. She never competed in the Games, but she did make history: Berg was a member of the inaugural class of women to receive athletic scholarships.

This is an article from the May 7, 2012 issue

In March 1973, Miami's vice president for student affairs, William Butler, persuaded the board of trustees to approve 15 scholarships for women in golf, swimming and tennis. (Miami's $2,400 tuition was covered, but room, board and books were not.) In the eight years Butler had been on the job, he says he'd heard "an earful" of complaints from athletes and coaches about the lack of financial support for women's sports. "My disposition was to deal with areas that I felt were wrong," says Butler, now 85. "The role of women just happened to be one that needed a lot of attention." He didn't know that Miami was the first major program to award scholarships to female athletes until he read it in The New York Times that May. "I was so proud, I think I told the whole world," Butler says.

"It blew me away," says Berg of receiving word that she had been given a scholarship. "As far as I was concerned, once I got done with high school, that was the end of swimming. [Miami's offer] meant it wasn't." Berg won AIAW titles in the 200 and 400 free as a freshman, and in her sophomore and junior years the Hurricanes won two national team championships. The squad was first-rate, but Berg & Co. didn't exactly travel in style. Older teammates drove the swimmers to away meets in their own station wagons. "I remember one trip we got up to 80, 90 miles an hour," Berg says. "You just closed your eyes and hoped you made it."

Berg, 56, who now teaches swimming to Stanford alumni and staff, continued to compete in masters' races until she was six months pregnant with her son, Andrew, in 1996. "I felt a responsibility to do really well because this was something new," she says. "It was the feeling of being a pioneer. You do it right."

PHOTOSTEVE TLSTYFAST LANE Berg won two individual and two team titles as a swimmer at Miami.