By Bob Fulton for IUP Magazine

A collage of sports images.  On the left is a black and white shot of a women's tennis team from the early 70s.  Next is a black and white photo of a young woman running track.  Next is a color image of two women playing field hockey.  Lastly is a color photo of a young woman playing basketball.
“Title IX was the springboard into greater possibilities for women and promoted the growth of women’s sports.”

Ruth Podbielski, former associate director of athletics for women

As women at IUP achieved unprecedented athletic success and brought their school national recognition at the dawn of the 21st century, Ruth Podbielski could only shake her head in wonder. Reaching such lofty heights seemed unimaginable in the days before Title IX.

In an IUP Magazine article published in 2000, Podbielski recalled an era when female athletes were not celebrated or appreciated or even respected, often subjected to indignities such as getting chased from gyms by male coaches. Now here she was watching women hoist conference, regional, even national championship trophies.

IUP Women National Champions


1988 Gymnastics

1989 Gymnastics


1986 Tammy Donnelly (Track and Field)

1988 Michelle Goodwin (Gymnastics)

1989 Michelle Goodwin, Rose Johnson (Gymnastics)

1990 Dina Margolin (Gymnastics)

2001 Amber Plowden (Track and Field)

2012 Jackie Hynson (Swimming)

2021 Paige Mikesell (Swimming)

In this black and white photo, seven young women in shorts or athletic skirts reach up for a ball in a dark gymnasium, with sunlight and trees visible through arched windows in the background.

When Ruth Podbielski joined the faculty in 1955, intramurals were one of the few athletic outlets for women. (IUP Archives)

Young women in IUP warm-up jackets pose as a group, with four sitting on the floor in front, five kneeling behind them, and seven standing in back. The two women seated at front center have their hands on a basketball. Two women in dress clothes are standing on either end of the group.

IUP established a low-budget varsity program for women in 1970, with four teams: basketball, volleyball, tennis, and fencing. (IUP Archives)

In this black and white photo, eight young women wearing white sweaters, shirts, and tennis skirts hold wooden tennis rackets and pose in an inverted pyramid formation.

In its first season, IUP women’s tennis suffered only one loss—to the “Lassies of Slippery Rock,” the yearbook reported. (IUP Archives)

“When you see where it came from and where it is now, it’s mind-boggling,” said Podbielski, who died in 2017 at the age of 90. “It’s almost like a miracle.”

The only athletic outlets for women when Podbielski joined the Health and Physical Education faculty in 1955 were intramurals and so-called Play Days—informal, periodic get-togethers that provided off-campus competition. She would pack lunches, act as a chauffeur for her charges, and even launder “uniforms”—tan and brown gym class togs—at the end of the day.

Podbielski was appointed associate director of athletics for women when the university established a varsity program in 1970. She managed a strictly no-frills operation, allotted a budget of $3,700 to cover four teams: basketball, volleyball, tennis, and fencing. To supplement such meager funding, athletes sold baked goods, pencils, notepads, pompoms—anything that might bring in a few extra dollars.

Eleven young women in leotards with wide red, gray, blue, and white diagonal stripes hold up small plaques and certificates as they crowd a podium for medal winners, with two men and another woman standing nearby.

The gymnastics team won back-to-back DII national championships in 1988 and 1989. Three members won individual titles as well. (IUP Athletics)

Two field hockey players in white jerseys with red collars and black skirts hold sticks as they run down the field while a player in a dark green jersey is turned toward them.

IUP field hockey was an NCAA tournament semifinalist in 2004, 2006, and 2007. (IUP Athletics)

Fourteen young women, four kneeling in front, and most wearing white jerseys with “HAWKS” across the front, smile as they hold up an NCAA trophy while posing in the middle of a basketball court in an arena.

IUP women’s basketball reached the Final Four in 2018 and 2019. (IUP Athletics)

Two young women wearing red Crimson Hawks tank tops and white tennis skirts and holding rackets prepare to give a low hand slap while on the court.

Katy Graydon (left), Karolin Kirchtag, and the rest of the women’s tennis team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2021. (IUP Athletics)

But a seismic shift would soon occur. In 1972, President Nixon signed the Education Amendments Act, meant to address gender inequities in education. Tucked inside the legislation was Title IX, a 37-word provision that applied to sports programs.

It was, in retrospect, a watershed moment. Doors swung open for athletes long denied equal access, and participation in sports by women surged accordingly.

“Title IX was the springboard into greater possibilities for women and promoted the growth of women’s sports,” Podbielski said. “A lot of schools added to their programs. The nice part about it is we were given opportunities for better coaching, better budgets, and better training.”

A young woman wearing a white IUP tank top and black running shorts runs in the grass outside a track fence.

Tammy Donnelly, who also ran cross country, was the 1986 Division II national champion in track and field’s 10K event. In 2001, Amber Plowden joined her as a national champion, winning the 100 meter dash. (IUP Archives)

A young woman in a red Crimson Hawks T-shirt and gray warm-ups, with her hair in a high bun, smiles and holds an NCAA trophy as she stands at the top of a podium, labeled “National Champion.”

Paige Mikesell won the national title in the 200 freestyle in 2021. She is IUP’s second national champion in swimming. Jackie Hynson won the 200-yard butterfly in 2012. (IUP Athletics)

The impact of that transformational piece of legislation continues to resonate on campuses across the land. IUP women, once limited to intramurals and Play Days, now compete—and excel—on the national stage. The gymnastics team, which regularly humbled Division I opponents, reigned as Division II national champions in 1988 and 1989. The field hockey team advanced to the NCAA semifinals three times in a four-year span earlier this century, the basketball squad reached the Final Four in 2018 and 2019, and the tennis team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2021.

What’s more, individual national champions have been crowned in gymnastics (Michelle Goodwin in 1988 and 1989, Rose Johnson in 1989, and Dina Margolin in 1990), track (Tammy Donnelly in 1986 and Amber Plowden in 2001), and swimming (Jackie Hynson in 2012 and Paige Mikesell in 2021).

Such achievements would have seemed unimaginable in the early days of a women’s program Podbielski essentially built from scratch. But titles in the post-Title IX era are no longer out of the reach of female athletes at IUP.

And that kind of progress, as Podbielski put it so many years ago, is almost like a miracle.