Missouri State University has enjoyed a reputation for a strong and successful women’s athletics program on a conference, regional and national level for more than four decades.
MSU athletes have made individual or team NCAA appearances in eight sports with 70 conference and conference tourney championships in their 30 years in Division I, after strong Division II showings before that.
It’s no coincidence this success has come in the same timeframe as the adoption of Title IX of the United States Code. This law says, among other things, that agencies receiving federal funds cannot discriminate in their programs in many categories, including gender.
As Title IX reaches the 40-year mark, its effect on scholastic and collegiate athletics has been profound. Girls’ and women’s athletics have exploded onto the national sports scene, as well as at MSU.
One of the architects of MSU’s success in women’s athletics is Dr. Mary Jo Wynn, who is also known as a women’s sports pioneer in national circles. Wynn was Missouri State’s first director of women’s athletics, a post she took in 1975 after years of coaching MSU teams.
Before she retired from athletics administration in 1998, Wynn had established an MSU women’s sports hall of fame. She had also overseen two NCAA Final Four appearances and national attendance leadership in basketball, plus team NCAA appearances in softball, volleyball, golf and soccer.
“We didn’t achieve all our goals right away, and may never achieve them all, but we always pushed in the direction of those goals,” Wynn said.
“The thing we worked for was to provide as many opportunities for young women as we could. That was always the driving force of our efforts.”
Those opportunities came through enhancements of facilities, staffing, scholarships and operational budgets for women’s sports. Those tools enabled MSU and other schools to attract better student-athletes.
“It was four or five years before high school teams got better, but then we began to see more ladies starting as freshmen at the college level and that’s when you knew the development was starting to pay off,” Wynn said.
When Missouri State moved to Division I in 1982, Bears teams were pitted against the top programs in the land. Many times, MSU competed against major schools with far more resources. However, Title IX helped level the playing field.
Now, Wynn said, women’s athletics is simply part of the overall athletics picture. She pointed out that the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London attracted more female athletes than ever before. “There was not one nation without at least one female participant, and that was a first.”
Wynn said success for women in athletics might even have led to success in other areas.
“We’re also seeing more women getting into the fields of politics, medicine and law, and having success in those areas, and I believe that’s also an outgrowth of this.”
Mark Stillwell is a former sports information director for Missouri State. Now retired, Stillwell continues to write about Bears athletics in various publications.