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Namedroppers: Summer 2017

Some 30 years ago, Ruth Podbielski officially retired from her post as IUP’s associate director of athletics for women. But to members of the IUP athletic community, “Pod,” as she was affectionately known, never really left.

Ruth Podbielski

Ruth Podbielski in 1999. A pioneer in the advancement of women’s athletics at IUP, she died in April at 90.

“Ruth Podbielski was always there,” said Fran Nee, another longtime IUP associate director of athletics, who arrived as women’s swimming coach just months after Pod retired. “She was at women’s basketball games and softball games,” Nee said, “and she knew what the field hockey and lacrosse teams were doing, as well as soccer and volleyball.”

Podbielski died April 3 at 90 in Indiana, her adopted hometown of 62 years. Widely respected for her efforts to break barriers for women in athletic competition, she has been called the matriarch of women’s sports at IUP.

A native of Beaver Falls, Pod arrived at Indiana State Teachers College in 1955 as a physical education instructor. When women’s varsity sports premiered at IUP in 1970, she assumed the title she would hold until her retirement 17 years later.

To know what Pod meant to women’s athletics, one must understand the climate on campus and in the country in the 1950s. For female students, the closest thing to competitive athletics was intramural sports, and they could choose from two: basketball and volleyball. Meantime, nine intercollegiate sports were available to male students.

Shortly after her arrival at ISTC, Podbielski began organizing Play Days, later called Sports Days, which were informal gatherings for female students who sought off-campus athletic competition. Pod drove the players to other schools, packed their lunches, and washed their pinnies. 

In 1970, IUP introduced four women’s varsity sports: basketball, volleyball, tennis, and fencing. By 1979, that number had increased to 10, and a decade later, female athletes had won national titles in team and individual competition. 

Podbielski gave much of the credit for the success of women’s athletics at IUP to Title IX, which outlaws gender discrimination in university activities that receive federal support. The law brought about better funding, coaching, and training and a more equitable sharing of facilities for women’s sports.

But even as the women’s programs flourished, Podbielski continued to lavish on them the same level of support she gave Play Days in the 1950s.

That support left a lasting impression on Janice Clarkson-Dagney ’90, a standout swimmer and 2005 inductee into the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame. When Clarkson-Dagney transferred from West Virginia University to IUP in the late ’80s, classes that semester had already begun. Fortunately, someone connected her with Podbielski.

“She took me under her wing, took me to schedule my classes, and made sure I had a dorm room,” Clarkson-Dagney said. “She really went above and beyond what I would have expected anybody to do for me when I came into a college setting.”

For her pioneering work in women’s athletics, Pod received a number of awards. In 1995, the Division of Girls’ and Women’s Sports of the Pennsylvania Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance presented her with the Heritage Award. In 2013, she received the IUP President’s Medal of Distinction, the university’s highest nondegree award. Podbielski is a member of four athletic halls of fame, including IUP’s, and the university named the softball field in her honor in 2000.

Information about the Ruth Podbielski Women’s Athletic Scholarship is available online or by calling the Foundation for IUP at 724-357-3184.

Spring Highlights

On the topic of successful women’s sports, two teams claimed Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championships last spring. The women’s tennis team won its first PSAC team title, ending California’s 10-year run as champion. IUP also claimed the Atlantic Region title and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Division I tournament for the seventh-straight season.

The women’s basketball team won its first conference title since 2009 and its fifth overall, as the Crimson Hawks advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The men’s basketball team won more than 20 games for the ninth-straight season. It had a record of 28-4 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. After the season, assistant coach and former Pitt standout Travon Woodall was hired as director of basketball operations at Robert Morris University.

In addition, the IUP baseball team qualified for the PSAC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Ethan Cooper

Ethan Cooper, an IUP offensive lineman from Steelton, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL Bound

Hours after the conclusion of the NFL Draft in April, Ethan Cooper signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some draft experts had predicted his selection as early as the fourth or fifth round. Cooper finished his career at IUP as a two-time All-American and a three-time All-PSAC selection.

Hall of Fame Ceremony

The IUP Athletic Hall of Fame will welcome 12 new members at its annual induction ceremony September 9 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. The day’s festivities will start with a reception at 10:45 a.m., followed by the induction ceremony at 11:30.

The 2017 inductees are Frank Yusi ’65 and Tony Ferrari ’70, football; Bradford Hanes ’88, men’s tennis; William Kane ’80, men’s swimming; Marvin Kelley ’90, baseball; Tia Kipp Gamler ’03, women’s soccer; Theresa Kabala Thompson ’99, women’s basketball; Dave Langton ’85, men’s soccer; Jen Lawler Weiss ’02, field hockey; Frank Paronish ’81, M’91, track and field and football; Tom Rogish ’73, wrestling and football; and Ron Peters ’65, baseball and football. Former football and basketball manager Johnny Angelo will receive the honorary Bell Ringer Award.

Tickets are available by contacting Karyl Miller at 724-357-2057 or karyl.miller@iup.edu.

Alumni Notes

A longtime NFL personnel scout and front-office executive, Tom Modrak ’65 died in April at 74. He broke into the NFL with his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who hired him as a full-time scout in 1978. He remained in that position for 20 years and went on to serve as general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles for three years and as vice president of college scouting for the Buffalo Bills for a decade. Modrak was a three-time letter winner on the IUP football team. He was inducted into the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.

The Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame inducted its 2017 class in May, and it included a pair of IUP graduates, Jim Klyap ’66 and Kathy Sherry Newquist ’81. Klyap played two years of basketball at IUP and spent 46 years as a teacher, coach, and athletic director at Purchase Line High School. Newquist was on the IUP women’s basketball team from 1976 to 1980 and had a successful five-year run as a high school basketball coach in the ’80s.