Ruth Podbielski, a leader in gender equity in athletics, will receive the 2013 Indiana University of Pennsylvania President’s Medal of Distinction for professional achievement.
President Michael Driscoll will present the award to Podbielski at the annual Leader’s Circle of Indiana County awards event on April 11 at the Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort and Conference Center.
The President’s Medal of Distinction is the highest nondegree award presented by the university. It was established in 1985 to honor citizens of the state and region whose professional achievement or public service is of national significance or special significance to the university.
Ruth Podbielski “truly blazed a trail” on behalf of female athletes and helped to break down the barriers that prevented girls and women from athletic competition, Driscoll said.
“When done right, the educational benefits of athletic competition can’t be denied,” he said. “And ‘Ruth Pod,’ as she is known to hundreds of IUP female student-athletes and to her IUP community, did it right. She focused on opportunity, building self-esteem, ethics and teamwork. She has truly made a difference in the lives of countless women and girls and has advanced IUP’s athletic program in very significant ways.
“It will be my pleasure, on behalf of IUP, to thank her for a lifetime of service to this important initiative and to IUP. This recognition is especially timely as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX.”
Passed in 1972, Title IX enforced equal opportunity for men and women regarding any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Podbielski worked in the field of health and physical education for almost 60 years, 32 of them at IUP. She started in the profession as a health and physical education teacher at Butler High School and directed the school’s intramural program.
After coming to IUP in 1955, she served in a number of roles, including as a faculty member in the health and physical education department, coach of basketball and volleyball, director of women’s intramurals, assistant chair and acting chair of the health and physical education department and, finally, director of athletics for the IUP women’s intercollegiate program, a position she retired from in 1987. During her tenure, she was instrumental in the university’s adding 10 varsity sports, allowing thousands of women to take advantage of opportunities to compete in a varsity athletic program.
In her work to advance intercollegiate athletics and intramurals for both men and women, Podbielski was a driving force in helping to obtain adequate financial support for the athletic program and in attracting scholarship funds for worthy students. She has provided financial support for an endowed athletic scholarship for women in her name.
An outstanding golfer, she served on the board of directors of the Women’s Golf Association of Western Pennsylvania and created many opportunities for women in the sport.
She also has served in leadership roles in the athletic profession, including on the Central Western Pennsylvania Board of Officials and as chairwoman and secretary of the PSAC Basketball Women’s Division. She has volunteered as director of many tournaments at the university for both men’s and women’s sports.
Podbielski has been a leader in the recreation field in the community, serving as a volunteer member of the White Township Recreation Advisory Board and as chairwoman of the Recreation Committee of the Greater Indiana Strategic Planning Committee.
She has a number of firsts to her credit, including first chair of the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame Board of Directors and first woman to be elected to the Indiana Country Club’s Board of Governors. Podbielski was inducted into the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
She was awarded faculty emeritus status upon her retirement from IUP and was recognized with the IUP President’s Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of her years in health and physical education at IUP. She received the Heritage Award from the Division of Girls’ and Women’s Sports of the Pennsylvania Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in 1995, which recognized her dedication to women in athletics as a person “who did not follow where the path led but instead went where there was no path and left a trail.”
Podbielski was selected for the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Slippery Rock University Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
In recognition of her contributions to the university and gender equity in athletics, IUP dedicated a softball field in her honor on the south campus in 2000.
The Leader’s Circle awards dinner, now in its 14th year, recognizes the recipient of the IUP President’s Medal of Distinction and the nominees and recipients of the Indiana County Male and Female Civic Leader awards and the ATHENA Award. The Leader’s Circle of Indiana County includes representation from IUP, community civic organizations, past award recipients and award sponsors.
photo: Keith Boyer