The UW Women’s Gymnastics Program;
The Pioneers and the Pivotal Events that Shaped it.

Heidi Coleman
Fall 2005 


The first moment I learned we were required to write on an area of UW history for our term paper, I knew I needed to focus on the gymnastics program.  As a current coach in the program, I have a vested interest in discovering how the program evolved and who the pioneers were.  I have often run into or have heard of former coaches or athletes from the program, and having a big picture of who belonged to what era would be most beneficial.  Initially as I began my research I wasn’t totally sure what the ‘focus’ of the paper should be.  Within every history there are many individuals and many stories, so I needed to dig to see what materials and what tales emerged.  My first interview was with the former long time head coach of the men’s gymnastics program, Eric Hughes.  Fortunately Eric still comes to the UW to work out and help with the women’s gymnastics meets, so he was already familiar to me. After a trip to Special Collections and a discussion with Eric a better picture for the direction of the paper developed.  1) How did it all begin and who were the pioneers? 2) What were the pivotal events and people that altered its early growth and direction?  3) Finally, what does the program look like today, compared to its inception?

Having formulated the focus of the paper I began my quest for information.  My research was compiled from numerous interviews, old photos, newspaper clippings, media guides, old correspondence, statistical data sheets and personal information.  First stop was to the Special Collections in the Suzallo-Allen library where I spent a couple evenings picking out any resource, primary or secondary, that had anything to do with gymnastics or women athletes at UW.  I next interviewed Eric Hughes, former head coach of the men’s gymnastics program and a man with a wealth of information.  Eric was responsible for the introduction of gymnastics on campus and witnessed the birth of the women’s and the demise of the men’s program he had headed for 25 years!  Next stop was the sports media department at UW.  They had a whole filing cabinet drawer dedicated to old photos/ newspaper clippings and score sheets of UW Gymnastics dating back to 1975, when the women’s program became an official varsity sport.   Eric had given me contact information for a number of former gymnasts and coaches involved with the program, so I proceeded to call Carol Elsner, one of the pioneer gymnasts and Dale Shirley, the first head women’s coach of the women’s program. 

With the presumption I had plenty of information, I proceeded to start writing my paper.  I soon realized I had compiled a wealth of information about the early beginnings of the program, but little about the transformation it underwent into a varsity sport in ’75.  Although Dale Shirley had plenty of information about his program, he suggested I contact Kitt Green, former Senior Associate Athletic Director of Women’s Sports to give some insight into the years after the inception of Title IX.  She was witness to the gymnastics program as it transitioned into a varsity sport after Title IX and later when it became an NCAA sport.   I also got some ideas from papers written by students in the course, who had focused on women in the athletic dept.  This led me to Marie Tuite, current Senior Associate Athletic Director of Olympic Sports, who gave me unlimited access to her files on Title IX dating back to 1980.   A little additional research on the web on the NCAA as well as Title IX rounded out my informational quest. 

Humble Beginnings

The UW Women’s Gymnastics Program officially became a collegiate team in 1975(brochure, 75).  The path that lead to its adoption however was a gradual climb that began in 1950. 

To research the origins of UW women’s gymnastics, one must investigate the men’s side of the sport and look to one man in particular, Eric Hughes.  Dr. Eric Lester Hughes, a Canadian transplant born in Victoria, B.C. moved to Seattle after completing both a bachelors and a master’s degree in Physical Education from the University of Illinois.   In 1950 while working on his PhD at UW, he started a gymnastics club for young boys through the Extension Program.  At roughly the same time he was starting up the boy’s program, he also started a co-ed acrobatic exhibition team for UW students to participate in as an extra-curricular activity.  The enterprise had become popular across American campuses, and many UW male students had shown an interest for quite some time.  An article was published in the University Daily explaining the activity and inviting men and women to join.  At the first meeting nine women and eleven men, both grads and undergrads attended, but interest soon faded. 

Membership was rounded up with more publicity in the Daily and from announcements at basketball games and eventually the activity took shape.   The group, chiefly the men, did demonstrations for The March of Dimes, several fraternities and most successfully at several half time basketball games.  “Tumbling Act Rocks Pavilion; Nuts to Basketball say Fans,” read The Daily (50) after the exhibition group astounded the audience and upstaged the basketball game itself.  It was at this particular half time event that a woman was included for the first time.  
By 1954, with the men’s program increasingly getting better each year, there was pressure put on the athletic department to include men’s gymnastics as a varsity sport.  According to Eric Hughes The department gave them a small stipend and promised if they had a good season they would get minor sport recognition. (At this time varsity sports were classified as minor and major.)  After yet another successful year, in the fall of ’55 Men’s Gymnastics became a varsity sport.
Here Come the Girls!
Around 1960 when gymnastics was gaining more popularity, Eric says the phone calls started coming in from parents wanting to enroll their daughters in gymnastics. 

In response a girl’s extension program was started out of Hutchinson Hall. This program along with the co-educational exhibition group would be the fledgling beginnings of a future women’s gymnastics varsity team.  The men’s team quickly became a big success sending teams to nationals each year and producing the individual All Around Champion from 1969-1971 (Bjella, 2005), but it would take over a decade for the women’s program to even be recognized as an intercollegiate sport.     

George Lewis and the Seattle YMCA
In the mid 60’s, long before the women joined the intercollegiate program, gymnastics was gaining momentum in the Seattle area.  As gymnastics became more and more popular with women, the Seattle YMCA Gymnastics program headed by George Lewis became the premier gymnastics club in the state.  In 1950, George met Eric Hughes and they became friends(Bjella,02)  When Eric came upon some talented female gymnasts he could not accommodate in his recreational girl’s program, he referred them to George, who was able to train them at a higher level at the YMCA.  A top notch diver and acrobat, George along with Eric performed hand balancing acts together to further the interest of gymnastics in the community (Bjella,02)

Lewis became such a successful coach, gymnasts from around the Northwest moved to Seattle to train under his tutelage and athletes from the Seattle Y often attended colleges on gymnastics athletic scholarships.  
Look out UW- Here Come the Women!
Some of the women training at the YMCA were also University of Washington students and it seemed a natural marriage to combine studies with athletics.   In the 1964-65 Season, five women, mostly physical education majors, approached officials in the P.E. Department with the idea of starting up a women’s gymnastics program.  The Department told the group it was possible only if they found sponsors, so they asked two P.E. graduate assistants to serve as president and head coach.  The head coach of the program was Margaret Cant, the President Sharon Reiken and one of the five athletes; Dale McClements Kephart acted as the assistant coach (Anchorage Daily News, 95).    The women primarily competed in the Northwest, but on March 27 in their first season, the two women team of Kephart and Carole Elsner earned a remarkable 2nd    place at the Women’s National Invitational Collegiate Meet held @ Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri which happened to be the first college Nationals for women. 

The individual results of the ladies were also impressive:  Carol Elsner (7th All Around) Dale McClements herself (4th AA, 1st floor, vault and bars, 8th on beam)(Modern Gymnast Magazine 65).   With no funding from the UW, the women’s parents, and a number of fund raising initiatives paid for the trip.  In addition, Carol mentioned that they were actually discouraged by some of their professors to even go.  “I heard a few say that you might fail such and such a course if you go” were Dale Kephart’s words in a local paper (Anchorage Daily News 95).  They fielded a team of two, with two scores to count and they placed second. Southern Illinois lead by team captain Donna Schaenzer was victorious in a field of 37 athletes representing seven schools.   
Although the official head of the UW club was Margaret Cant and the girls worked out at the UW, they also trained a lot at the YMCA under George Lewis (Bjella 02).  Eric Hughes speculates the team’s success was due to Lewis if one looks at his other athletes’ successes.   According to Eric Hughes, at one USGF Nationals (Club competition) George’s athletes placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th All Around and almost every year his gymnasts won the YMCA Nationals.  

The Pioneers:  Carol Elsner and Dale McClements Kephart
As the pioneers of UW women’s gymnastics it seems only fitting to go into a little more detail about Carol Elsner and Dale McClements Kephart.  I had the opportunity to interview Carol over the phone as she was preparing for a trip to Australia.  She, like Kephart trained at the Y under George and attended the UW as a P.E. major.  She remembers well being treated like a second class citizen by UW Personnel.  The equipment they trained on at Hutchinson Hall was antiquated or non-existent and there was no funding to buy anything new.  It consisted of lumpy, thin horse hair mats with rips in them, one hard wooden beam and a pair of uneven bars that weren’t anchored to the floor.  To weigh them down and to keep the bars from falling over when in use, people sat on the bases or sandbags were used.   Most of the girls had one basic leotard which they purchased themselves, then sewed piping on to give it some appeal.  The club members sold donuts, held car washes and hit their parents up for money to attend meets.  The one thing the UW did give them was the use of a school car to transport them to meets in the Northwest. 

Upon graduation, Carol became a teacher, and then opened a local gymnastics club with Dale Shirley, who later would become the first head coach at the UW.  In ’74 she headed to New York to become a dancer, and now lives in Bellevue working as a physical therapist.

Dale Kephart has had a stunning gymnastics career both as an athlete and a coach.  As a serious gymnast in the 60’s, her accomplishments include competing at 2 World Championships and one Olympic Games, accompanying national and collegiate titles.  She started as a freshman at UW in ’62, and then transferred to Southern Illinois University after she was offered a scholarship there.  Unfortunately international competition caused her to drop out of school on a number of occasions but eventually she came back to UW and completed her B.A in Physical Education there, thanks to Eric Hughes who secured her a partial athletic scholarship.  Eric believes this was the first athletic scholarship given to a woman at UW from the intercollegiate athletic department.  Having such an expansive background in the sport, Dale took her expertise and applied it to coaching.  Coach to the ’72 and the ’76 U.S. Olympic teams, Kephart also coached at the University of Nevada, Reno for 8 years (Letter to Eric Hughes, 95).

In 1997, after a two year push by Eric Hughes, Kephart was finally inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame.   It took 20 years to give Kephart the recognition she deserved!  

1965-1975- The Next Decade
In the years preceding the transition into a full fledged varsity team, the UW Club team had an outstanding record.  From 1965 -75 it qualified a team to the AIAW Nationals 8 times. In ‘70 it took first place in the Pac 8 Northern Division Championships, highlighted by Laurie Black’s first place all-around finish. In 1973 Laurel Anderson Tindell gave UW its first AIAW national champion- on vault (Bjella, 02).  On the Club team were Olympians and numerous top national contenders.  In a newspaper clipping dating to 1969, Seattle was deemed “The gymnastics capital of the nation” when two of its inhabitants, also UW students won both the men’s and the women’s AAU National Club All Around Championships. Olympian Joyce Tanac, the female counterpart also won an unprecedented four out of four events that year, making a clean sweep of the competition (Unknown Newspaper clipping 69). 

University of Washington Gymnasts were some of the best the nation could field, yet not until ’75 would the women go down in the UW record books and start to get the funding that they had earned.

Women’s Gymnastics finally goes Collegiate
In the fall of 1974, almost a decade after Carol Elsner and Dale Kephart placed 2nd at Nationals, UW finally gave the nod and the funding to a women’s collegiate gymnastics team.  This victory was directly attributable to the struggle for women’s rights on campuses and in towns all around the country.  Title IX, the legislation enacted in 1972 which brought women’s equity to education stated:  “no person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (Steele, 03).   It was a long time coming because discrimination against women in education and sport was commonplace.  For example,
At the ’72 Munich Games, Olga Connolly, a female discus thrower, was selected to carry the US Flag at the opening ceremonies.  Upon learning that Connolly would be the American color-bearer, Russell Knipp, a weight lifter said, “The flag-bearer ought to be a man, a strong man, a warrior.  A woman’s place is in the home (Steele,03).”    

In Nerad’s novel, The Academic Kitchen, Agnes Fay Morgan, Ph.D. Department chair and Professor of Home Economics at Berkeley from 1918-1954 did not take her long tenured post by choice.  Without offers in her field of study, Chemistry, she either taught in Home Economics or nowhere at all. (Nerad, 99)  Nerad (99)   goes on to write that women were officially unrestricted from access to any academic field, but encountered grave resistance when pursuing fields outside of home economics or liberal arts.  This type of treatment and resistance was customary across most campuses and manifest on the UW Campus at this time.  Dale Shirley mentioned to me that on several occasions in the late 60’s and early 70’s he and others approached the athletic department about funding and establishing a women’s varsity gymnastics team.  On every occasion they were met with disinterest.  The female gymnasts at the Seattle YMCA were some of the top athletes in the country and the sport of gymnastics was exploding.   At the ’72 Munich Olympics Olga Korbet enthralled crowds with her unique acrobatic feats and brought attention to the sport of women’s gymnastics (Bjella, 02).   With the women’s movement in full bloom, it wouldn’t be long before the UW Intercollegiate department would be required by law to include women in their programs.   

Title IX Legislation Changes Everything
In 1969, a part time instructor at the University of Maryland, Bernice R. Sandler was hoping to be considered for a post from 7 openings she was qualified for.  Her co-worker, a male, explained it was not her credentials, but the fact that she was ‘too strong for a woman’ to be in contention for the positions.  This statement was the impetus for the beginning of a journey for Sandler which would lead to Congressional hearings and the draft of legislation on sex discrimination that eventually became the passing of Title IX. (Sandler, 77)  Although passed in ’72, this bill would not affect the UW Campus until 1974 when Catherine (Kitt) Green, the head of the women’s intramural programs at UW was promoted to Special Assistant for Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics and 9 intramural sports for women were moved into the athletic department.  
A new era for the athletic department and for UW Gymnastics had indeed begun!

The Transition
Although the Title IX Legislation was passed in 1972, not until July 19, 1974 did regulations come out on how to implement the new rules.  This is when Kitt Green was approached and a committee formed to figure out how to follow the regulations. 

In my conversation with Kitt, she said the big struggle was not about opportunity, but money.  Although Joe Kearny, the Athletic Director and the intercollegiate department may not have had a problem with women joining their department, they did not want to pay for it.  The intercollegiate budget of 2.1 million dollars was delegated between 13 men’s sports and was earned through athletic event admissions and television appearances.  The women’s intramural sports budget for 9 sports was $35,000 and came from student activity fees.  When the intramural women’s teams were absorbed into the athletic department they no longer received funding from student fees and were thus reliant on the athletic dept. funds (Interview with Kitt Green, 05). 

The first year the women joined the athletic department, Kitt Green’s budget recommendation was $200,000 for all 9 sports, which she received.  Each year she increased the budget request and gradually the women were gaining more equality and the programs evolved.

How the Gymnastics Program changed after Title IX
The UW collegiate women’s gymnastics team of ‘75 fielded 17 athletes, heralding predominantly from local communities around Seattle. 

The coaching staff consisted of part-time Head Coach Dale Shirley and a volunteer pianist/ choreographer.  In its first year, the gymnastics operating budget quadrupled.  Now the women shared the better facilities and equipment with the men in the Hec Edmundson Pavilion gymnastics training facility.  They now had access to medical treatments/staff, a travel budget, uniforms and meal money (Pamphlet, 75).  However, in the first few years there was no funding for scholarships or recruiting.  Can you imagine a football team without a scholarship and recruiting budget?   As the budgets grew, so did the scholarships.  Initially the team competed within the Northwest and traveled by bus to away competitions except if they qualified for the AIAW National Championship, which they almost always did.    

The NCAA Takes Over
The next decade saw many changes to the UW program.  Riding on the coat-tails of the changes brought on by Title IX each year brought bigger budgets and more opportunities for advancement.  Until 1981, the UW women competed in the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) National governing body.  The AIAW’s philosophy centred on participation and was far less commercial than the NCAA. 

It did not allow off campus recruiting and made no distinction between major and minor sports.  The organization was also much stiffer about academic standards than the NCAA (Gardiner, 01).  Kitt Green informed me that the NCAA fought hard not to rescind its rule prohibiting female athletes from participating in championships.  When in 1981 they were forced to do so, they made a 180 degree turn and took over women’s athletics.  Although many lament the passing of the AIAW, women can also see the financial advantages.  The AIAW was functioning on a shoe-string budget and required teams to fund their own way to championships (Gardiner, 01).  Under the NCAA, championships were funded and according to Chris Plonsky in a US Today article;
“Once the NCAA became involved, women’s athletics became a much more attractive picture to the media” (Gardiner, pg 3).

 Just like Kitt said- it all came down to money.

The Program Today
UW Women’s gymnastics has seen its ups and downs.  The star athletes have come in, worked their magic then graduated and made room for a new crop of talent.   The program has had only 4 head coaches and if you compare the program just after it was absorbed into the athletic department with the program today, there are marked differences. 

The budget has ballooned to over $500,000.  This has created a trickle down effect to all facets of the program.  The women now have their own locker room, complete with a TV/ DVD player, sofas and a fridge.  They train in their own, unshared facility, compete on the same floor as the basketball players and receive a plethora of new equipment yearly.  Annually, a new leotard is designed and the women have up to 8 competitive leotards to choose from.  Because of Nike sponsorship, the women receive a menagerie of athletic clothing and supplies from grips for the bars to running shoes for jogging.  When they travel, and sometimes they travel to places like Cancun, Mexico or Hawaii, they fly and stay at quality hotels and receive money for meals.  Three full time coaches are hired to coach roughly 16 athletes.  In addition a trainer, a student trainer and a doctor are assigned to them, ensuring medical treatment daily and on the road.  College women have reaped the benefits of title IX like no other, because the men received this kind of treatment years ago and by law they must be treated equally.  The downside of this financial boon is that often athletes take the advantages women have gained for granted.  They don’t know about the meager beginnings and life before Title IX.          

The UW Women’s Intercollegiate Gymnastics Program owes its inception to a number of individuals.  Eric Hughes brought gymnastics in varying formats to the UW Campus in 1950 and cultivated its growth for men and women.  George Lewis and Dale Shirley were instrumental in the advancement of gymnastics for women in Seattle and in the State of Washington.  Two of their athletes, Carol Elsner and Dale Kephart had the courage to pursue the sport at the college level with minimal support from the University of Washington and at a time when it wasn’t common for women to be competitive athletically. 

UW Gymnastics changed considerably through the years as the sport grew in popularity but also due to a national feminist movement that changed the American landscape for women forever.  Title IX, the equity legislation that altered the educational environment for all women did not spare athletics or the UW Gymnastics program.  Kitt Green, the former Special Assistant for women’s Intercollegiate Athletics was instrumental in navigating its transition from a club program to a varsity sport and Dale Shirley, the first varsity head coach was responsible for keeping the winning tradition alive.  

When the NCAA took over women’s sports in 1981 the sport evolved once again.  It gave women’s sports and the UW Gymnastics Program funding to championships and much more media exposure while sacrificing a more participatory and athlete friendly philosophy.    The program today has a budget of over $500,000 and many of the perks and benefits the men receive. In addition, the athletic department makes a conscious and ongoing effort to comply with equity laws from a legal and moral obligation, something that few cared about in the early ‘70’s.

With all the changes UW Gymnastics has seen, A couple of paradoxes are evident.  Eric Hughes, the man who introduced gymnastics to the campus and who was so supportive and accommodating to the women would eventually inadvertently lose his program to them in 1980 only a year after he retired.  In addition, the women’s program’s prowess as a national contender diminished within the first five years after its inclusion in the athletic department and with its increased funding.  Although the team has seen sporadic success, the consistent national appearances and winning seasons that the team enjoyed are now more of a rarity.  One has to wonder…what were the variables that lead to this demise?

The biggest quandary however, is what the program would have looked like if Title IX hadn’t passed as a bill?  Would women’s gymnastics have remained under the intramural department and funded by student activity fees?  Would they have all the opportunities and benefits that they have today?  I also have to wonder why administrators were so reluctant to fund programs like women’s gymnastics that was already extremely competitive and nationally viable?  When 2 women can come away from a national championship in 2nd spot, wouldn’t you want to promote its growth?  The UW was winning on both counts:  they had winning athletic representation by its female gymnasts, but they didn’t have to pay for it!    


Primary Sources

Brochure, (1977) University of Washington Women’s Gymnastics. 
University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Co-Recreational Acrobatics At the University of Washington. (1950) The University Daily paper clipping.

Elsner, Carol (2005, Oct 28). E-mail to Heidi Coleman.

Elsner, Carol (2005, Nov 13). Telephone Interview by Heidi Coleman.

Green, Catherine (Nov 16). Telephone Interview by Heidi Coleman.

Hughes, Eric (date unknown) Handwritten chronicle of UW Men’s Gymnastic’s History.

Hughes, Eric (2005, Nov 2).  Interview by Heidi Coleman.

Hughes, Eric (2005, Nov 9).  Interview by Heidi Coleman.

Hughes, Eric (1995, Aug 3). Letter from Eric Hughes about Dale
Kephart’s accomplishments to the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

Hughes, Eric (1997, Jan 20).  Letter from Eric Hughes about Dale Kephart and Joyce Tanac Schroeder’s accomplishments to the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

Kephart, Dale McClements. (1995) Letter to Eric Hughes about her accomplishments.

Levesque, Bob (2005, Nov 20) Interview by Heidi Coleman.

Gymnastics Information Sheet (1976). University of Washington Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Gymnastics Club Wins AAU; Tannac Sweeps Girl’s Events (1969)
Unknown Newspaper clipping.

Media Guide (1987) University of Washington Women’s Gymnastics.                  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Media Guide (1988) University of Washington Women’s Gymnastics.  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Media Guide (1990-91) University of Washington Women’s  Gymnastics.  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Media Guide (1984-85) University of Washington Women’s Gymnastics, Swimming and Indoor Track. University of Washington Intercollegiate Medial Department Files

Media Guide (2005) University of Washington Women’s Gymnastics.  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

12 Photos: 1976-78 Gymnastics File. University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Pamphlet (1975) University of Washington Women’s Gymnastics.  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Program, (1983/84) NorPac Athletic Conference Championship for Gymnastics.  University of Washington Intercollegiate Media Department Files.

Schroeder, Joyce, Tanac (1995) Letter to Eric Hughes about her accomplishments.

Shirley, Dale (2005, Nov 15). Telephone Interview by Heidi Coleman.

Southern Coeds Capture Women’s National Collegiates. (1965) Modern Gymnast Magazine clipping.

Washington Honours Gymnastics Pioneer (1995) Newspaper Clipping, Anchorage Daily News.

Secondary Sources

Bjella, Lee (2002) National Association of Washington Gymnastics Judges website.  History Ch. 11,14,15

Gardiner, Andy (2001) Women mark 20 years with the NCAA. USA Today website:

Nerad, Maresi. (1999) The Academic Kitchen: A Social History of Gender Stratification at the University of California, Berkeley. State University  of New York Press, Albany, N.Y., p78.

Sandler, Bernice R. (1997). NAWE: Advancing Women in Higher Education. V. 6, 1-6.

Simon, Bob. (2003).  The Battle Over Title IX.  CBS News.  Retrieved Nov 11, 2005 from

Steele, Genesis (2004) The History of Women & Athletics at the University of Washington.  EDLPS 531 Final Paper.