Spring Summer 07

The Core


Living Legacy

Doc of Ages

Tour de Force


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Ocean's Informants

Transcripts: Leaping from the 18th Century to the 21st

Secret History

Big Shoulders, Helping Hand

C'est Si Bon Bon

Oxford and Upward

Go Ask Alumni

Eye on the Quads

Secret History

Athletics associations age gracefully.

When women students stop at the Reynolds Club for a quick jolt of caffeine, it probably never occurs to them that females would once have been barred from this all-male clubhouse. Neither do men students at Doc Films probably know, or care, that Ida Noyes Hall was originally built to provide an equivalent clubhouse for women.

Over the decades, nearly every vestige of gender separation at Chicago has been swept away and forgotten—except for two of the oldest continuously run student organizations on campus. Not the Women’s Debating Society, or Men’s Chess Club, or something else that current Chicago stereotype would suggest, but the letter-awarding organizations for varsity athletes: the Order of the C and the Women’s Athletic Association, both founded in 1904.

In fact, the Order of the C and the WAA (pronounced “Wah”) are two of the oldest such clubs in the country. The Order of the C was founded by Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago’s first athletic director and one of football’s most influential early coaches. The WAA was established by the first director of women’s athletics, Gertrude Dudley, an early advocate of the radical view that exercise improved, rather than damaged, women’s health. There were earlier organizations at other colleges and universities, says Rosalie Resch, associate chairman of physical education and athletics, but these clubs have mostly died out.

Athletics at Chicago has been on a slow but steady upswing since 1987, when the University joined the UAA, an NCAA Division III conference that includes such institutions as Brandeis and New York University. Today, about 300 undergrads participate in varsity athletics—nearly 10 percent of the student body. But so far, the other 90 percent isn’t that informed. “Athletics are definitely more appreciated by the athletes themselves,” says fourth-year Petra Wade, WAA’s president and two-year captain of the Maroons softball team. Sometimes classmates ask if they might be able to try out, as if there were “no differentiation between intramural and varsity,” says Wade, who was named Most Valuable Player in 2006. “Which is sometimes discouraging,” she adds with a rueful laugh, “because we work so hard.”

At Chicago, even varsity football draws a small crowd—mostly parents and other athletes. Sometimes the football team is supported by a pep band, but not at every game. For Ben Potts, president of the Order of the C and second-team All-UAA tackle in 2006, it was a stark change from his football-loving hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana. “You learn pretty quickly,” Potts says. “It’s you and the team. That’s it.”

As a Division III school, Chicago cannot offer athletic scholarships. But its coaches actively seek out athletes who can also meet the tough admissions standards. Like most of the other varsity athletes, Wade and Potts were recruited. And both are discouraged by the attitude that somehow athletes aren’t quite Chicago material. “Intellectually, there’s not much of a divide,” says Potts, a former Rhodes Scholarship candidate with a 3.8 average. “You can discuss Descartes with anybody in athletics.”

For both the Order of the C and the WAA, the annual awards banquet is the major event of the year. While each club holds its own ceremony, the award structure is the same. Athletes can earn either a minor “C,” a participation certificate, or a major “C,” more commonly known as a varsity letter. A first-year major “C” is a lapel pin for men, a stick pin for women. The secondyear is the traditional letter jacket with leather sleeves. (Letter jackets have gone in and out of fashion over the years, says Resch. Potts wore his for a while, then passed it on to his mother, while Wade got hers in a larger size specifically so she could give it to her father. “It’s a nice coat,” she says, “but not really my style.”) The third-year is a watch with the “C” logo, and the fourth-year is a maroon blanket with a large white “C.”

Over the years, says Resch, there have been suggestions to merge the Order of the C and the WAA. Most colleges and universities have just one athletic club for men and women. Recently, the two groups have been working together more closely; because of shared funding awarded by the NCAA, they have been co-organizing a sports camp for 75 neighborhood children. For both Wade and Potts, the collaboration has just confirmed their preference for keeping the groups separate. “Everyone’s more comfortable to express their ideas if it’s only women or only men,” says Wade. “More gets done if you don’t have a battle of the sexes.”—Carrie M. Golus, AB’91, AM’93