INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Castleton University women's soccer program has been featured on the fall cover of the NCAA's Champion Magazine for its role in launching the sport of women's soccer in the collegiate atmosphere.
Castleton's women's soccer history dates back to 1966—before the implementation of Title IX—and was one of the first in the United States to provide women an opportunity to play competitive soccer against other colleges. Castleton would travel to play Johnson State and Lyndon State—which combined to become Northern Vermont University in 2018.
The piece details the growth of women's soccer as a sport—from its humble beginnings Castleton to the world stage—and how collegiate women's soccer has played a role in said growth. The article also features interviews with Castleton's former athletic director T.R. Terry and alumnae Joanne Tuxbury and Suzanne Roberts, the latter of whom came back to campus for the first time in decades to meet members of the current women's soccer team and shoot the cover.
Below is an excerpt from the author, Amy Wimmer Schwarb, on how the story came together and how Castleton staked its claim as one of the first women's soccer programs. To view the full story, click here.
How Women Got a Foot in the Game
Champion magazine had fresh data from NCAA research charting the explosive growth of women's soccer since becoming an NCAA sport 37 years ago. We (and the rest of America) had a renewed excitement for the sport, thanks to a U.S. women's national team — including 21 former college athletes — that blew away competitors this summer on its way to repeating as Women's World Cup champion.
So, we wondered: What if we traced the popularity of American women's soccer back to its beginnings? If we followed that lineage back as far as it would go, could we discern the role of American colleges and universities as incubators for an increasingly ubiquitous sport? Would the trajectory of its popularity reveal something about a sport that has firmly captured Americans' hearts not only during the Women's World Cup and the Olympic Games, but also every weekend, when more than 1 million of our daughters take the pitch in rec leagues nationwide?
Any number of NCAA schools could claim to be home of the "first" college women's soccer team. Shawn Ladda, a kinesiology professor at Manhattan, lists some possibilities in her doctoral dissertation, "The History of Intercollegiate Women's Soccer in the United States." Ladda notes that the first collegiate women's soccer competitions that took place beyond a physical education class were at Smith, where intramural contests that pitted class against class and house against house were allowed as early as 1924. Meanwhile, in 1975, Brown became the first college to "grant full varsity level status" to its women's soccer team, Ladda writes.
But Champion was intrigued by a trio of small Vermont colleges whose programs landed between the upstart Smith and the post-Title IX Brown. These colleges — Johnson State, Castleton State and Lyndon State — seem to make up the cradle of U.S. intercollegiate women's soccer competition. In the mid-1960s, the schools turned to each other to flesh out a schedule, and even connected with a couple of colleges across the border in Canada for competition.
Then came the hard part: tracking down anyone who knew anything about women's soccer played 50-plus years ago in a far corner of the country. As luck would have it, 84-year-old T.R. Terry, the athletics director who granted varsity status to Castleton women's soccer in 1966, recalls the details vividly. That includes his disagreement with a longtime Castleton women's physical education professor who thought women should exercise but not compete. The Castleton yearbook records the first initials and maiden names of 15 women on the team, and the university's alumni database had records for seven living soccer alumni.
Several emails, phone calls and overnighted letters followed. They netted interviews with two former members of a squad that took the field 53 years ago. 1966 Castleton midfielder Suzanne Roberts (noted in the yearbook as S. Griswold) even offered a timid assurance that she would visit campus to meet our photo crew and the current Castleton women's squad.
"It was special to go back to see the college and the town," Roberts says. "Everyone was just so kind."