By our own calculation, Mary Fitzsimmons and I first met in first grade, at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights. While she would later transfer to St. Emily’s School in Mount Prospect, our paths would cross again at Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Rolling Meadows and ultimately at the University of Notre Dame.
We didn’t know it then, but as the first graduates from Sacred Heart — which later merged with Saint Viator High School — to attend Notre Dame, we were paving the way for many more alumnae to follow us over the years. On Saturday, we were recognized as pioneers.
We were among 250 women — from the first five years of coeducation — identified by the university as having pioneered the way toward women’s athletics. Mary was on the first women’s rowing team at the university, while I promoted the growth of women’s sports as the first Women’s Sports Editor for the daily newspaper, The Observer.
The celebration was timed with the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the 50th anniversary of admitting women to Notre Dame. Mary and I were in its second co-ed class.
We were treated to a whole weekend of festivities. The highlight came Saturday morning, when the 170 women in attendance were individually introduced during an induction ceremony as honorary members of the Notre Dame Monogram Club. University President John I. Jenkins, CSC, addressed the group as did Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick.
“The women’s athletics programs at Notre Dame have enjoyed remarkable success over the years,” Fr. Jenkins said, “but none of that would have been possible without the commitment, dedication and passion of the women who blazed the trail 50 years ago.”
I have to confess that I secretly wondered why I was chosen to be included among these trailblazing women. But at the induction ceremony, Senior Deputy Athletics Director Missy Conboy, who led the organizing committee, told me why. She described paging through stories in The Observer to identify early team members, and it was there that she noticed my byline.
“If it wasn’t for all of your stories,” she said to me, “we never would have found you.”
That made it for me, knowing that my writing — and my push to include women’s sports in the mainstream sports pages — had made a difference.
As for Mary and me, our role in women’s athletics has served us well over the years. Mary is a physician in emergency medicine in Antioch, CA, while my years with The Observer led to a 35-year career with the Daily Herald, first as a sports reporter and then featured columnist. And of course, the journey continues with SuburbTalk and sharing all of the unique stories that make up the Northwest suburbs.