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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, March 25, 2000

Wahine track has solid
past to build upon

THE good news that the University of Hawaii will add women's track and field beginning with next season brought back a lot of memories for me.

UH used to have an intercollegiate women's track program from 1972 to 1984, before it was replaced by softball.

One of the program's outstanding stars was Gwen Loud, who was just elected to the UH Circle of Honor last year. Loud captured the 1984 NCAA long jump title to become Hawaii's first track All-American.

Loud, who has applied for the head coaching position, told the Star-Bulletin that she's "thrilled" to hear that women's track and field will be revived.

About time, too, although the financial constraints are understandable for an athletic program such as Hawaii's.

I'm glad, too, that in its continuing efforts to comply with gender equity, the university has decided to restore track and field instead of canoe paddling, which isn't an NCAA sport.

The idea of adding paddling instead of a more legitimate intercollegiate sport such as track and field seemed like the athletic department was trying to play a numbers game with women's scholarships.

Maybe some day when other colleges take up canoe paddling, UH might consider it. But don't hold your breath.

Actually, women's track and field had quite a history in UH's past. It was the first sport for women at the University of Hawaii.

I remember back in 1961, when Dr. Richard You, a member of the Board of Regents, asked Donnis Thompson if she wanted to coach track and field at the University of Hawaii.

THOMPSON, who grew up in Chicago's South Side,didn't need any convincing. She came right away, bringing several of her track stars with her, including speedster Lacey O'Neal.

What a concept. Scholarships for women athletes, nine years before the passing of the historic Title IX.

It was an extraordinary moment in women's sports and UH was one of the trail blazers. At the time, only Tennessee State and Hawaii offered women scholarships.

In her second year, in 1962, Thompson produced two National AAU champions in half-miler Leah Bennett and javelin thrower, Karen Mendyka.

The program ended when Thompson left to get her doctorate. But she returned as the school's first women's athletic director, nurturing a slow but steady growth before leaving UH to become the DOE's superintendent of schools.

Now retired and living in California, Thompson remains in touch with friends here. She, too, must be glad to see women's track and field back where it first started.

IT is an interesting coincidence that the news of the revival of the sport comes just days before the Dr. Donnis Thompson Wahine Intercollegiate Golf Tournament. The event was renamed three years ago in honor of the contributions she made to the UH women's athletic program.

"She's a great lady, she was my athletic director," said Wahine golf coach Marga Stubblefield, who was a one-person UH golf team back in 1974. "She was a great supporter of women's sports."

Perhaps most, if not all, of the 10 players on this year's Wahine golf team have never heard of Donnis Thompson.

Too bad. They owe a lot to the groundwork she started for Wahine athletes.

Perhaps the school can invite her back for the first women's track and field meet next year. It would be a fitting gesture.

Now, if the school can just find the money to restore fully the dilapidated track surface at Cooke Field, which continues to be an embarrassment for a Division I university.

Bill Kwon has been writing about
sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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