Before 1970, there wasn’t a women’s athletics program at the University, yet UVA still boasted several notable female athletes, including Mary Slaughter (Educ ’54), who lettered in tennis in the early ’50s, and Mary Brundage (Nurs ’67), who competed alongside male swimmers on the 1966 varsity swim team.
In 1972, Title IX became law. In addition to ensuring equal job opportunities for women, it mandated that educational institutions provide equal opportunities and funding to men’s and women’s athletics programs. In 1977, UVA awarded its first athletics scholarship to a woman.
Today, the Virginia Athletics Foundation provides more than $4 million in scholarships to women athletes.
Jill Haworth Jones
Some days during cross country practice, Jill Haworth Jones (Col ’83) would hop a fence, cross a cow pasture, pass the mansion on the hill and run around the back of the present-day Birdwood Golf Course. Other days, she would run near the polo fields and loop around. “The dirt paths on O Hill, the athletic fields—sometimes we’d run around the Corner,” she says. She and the other members of the women’s cross country team ran upward of 70 miles a week.
Jones and her teammates made UVA history when they won national championships in 1981 and 1982. “The first year was exciting, but the second year might have been an even sweeter victory,” says Jones. “The second year, two of our best athletes, Lisa Welch (Educ ’85) and Aileen O’Connor (Col ’83), couldn’t compete due to injury, and the coach at Stanford was quoted in a newspaper as saying that we should mail him the trophy. But we won.”
Jones was among the first women to be offered athletic scholarships at the University and an early beneficiary of Title IX. “I know it opened up a huge door for me personally. It has changed a lot of women’s lives,” says Jones.
Jane Miller, senior associate athletics director of programs, concurs that Title IX “clearly elevated our women’s athletics to a higher level with necessary resources to compete at the highest levels.” UVA introduced women’s varsity sports in 1973, awarded the first scholarship to a female student-athlete in 1977, and by 1980 was supporting 10 women’s varsity sports. Currently, there are 13 women’s sports. “In the last 10 years, we’ve reaped the benefits of fully funded scholarships for our female student-athletes. In 2009-10, 12 of our teams participated in NCAA championships. The rowing team won its first national championship in the spring,” says Miller.
What was it like to be a pioneering female student-athlete? Jones says that she had little time to participate in social activities. “We were either studying or running,” she says. “The cross country team was my sorority, a very close-knit group. Head coach Dennis Craddock and cross country coach Martin Smith kept us very busy.”
Jones was a nine-time All-American and competed at the national level in track and cross country. She was twice a finalist for the 1,500 meters outdoors at the Olympic trials.