By Mike Pearson
In many ways, the origins of women’s intercollegiate athletics metaphorically resembled the fast stages of the 440-yard relay in track and field.
The first stage of the sprint began with the approval by the United States Congress of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, better known as Title IX.
The second step was the immediate urgency for American higher institutions to understand and properly respond to legislation prohibiting gender discrimination within their universities.
The baton was then given to the directors of the hundreds of intercollegiate athletic departments to identify how they would establish funds and identify potential female trustees to create these new departments.
Finally, at the University of Illinois, the final leg of the race was led by new assistant director of women’s athletics, Dr. Karol Kahrs, a person who, when officially appointed on June 1 1974, was forced to turn on.
With an approved budget of just $82,535 to work with (compared to the men’s sports budget of $2.5 million) and the fall season just weeks away, Kahrs’ schedule was jam-packed. of missions that had to be executed staccato. At the top of his “to do” list was the arduous building of his seven-sport coaching staff, identifying at least semi-expert instructors for basketball, golf, gymnastics, swimming, athletics, tennis and volleyball.
“We will stop thinking of women’s athletics as a hobby and more of a competition,” Kahrs told a daily illini writer. “College-level athletes will need to be more dedicated and be prepared to take on more responsibility than in the past.”
Completing a national search was simply impossible, and making Kahrs’ mission doubly difficult was the fact that she was limited to offering an individual salary of no more than $3,000 to anyone. Moreover, none of the candidates would be able to offer potential athletes a scholarship this first season.
In most cases, Kahrs predictably turned to people she was already familiar with at the University of Illinois. Prior to his appointment to the Athletic Association – precursor to the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics – Kahrs worked for eight years at UI’s College of Physical Education.
Kahrs’ first target was Urbana Betsy Kimpela longtime amateur star of the Illinois Women’s Golf Association.
She had just announced her retirement as a competitor. In a 1974 article written by Urban Mail reporter Lou Engel, Kimpel described how she received her job offer.
“It all happened when Dr. Kahrs called me after reading that I was going to be retiring from state tournament competition,” Kimpel said. “It was a surprise when they offered me the job and I think it was kind of a surprise when I decided to take it. The truth is, I’m pretty excited. I wouldn’t qualify in no instructor case, although I know the fundamentals and what is needed to have a good golf swing.”
Kimpel coached Illini until 1978 when she was replaced by Paula Smith.
Betsy Kimpel died in 2005 at the age of 75.
Then Kahrs discovered Steve Douglas, a former college basketball star who had played for coach Tex Winter at Kansas State University. Fortunately, he was already tenured as a professor on the political science staff at UI.
“While it wasn’t going to do anything for my career, it felt like fun…something worthwhile,” Douglas recently said. “I had written a letter to Karol explaining my experience and she jumped on it. She thought that because I had coached women before (in Malaysia, where he had undertaken a study of the country’s education system as part of his doctorate), I would be a good candidate. It was a delightful experience, but my initial agreement with Karol was that I would only coach for a year or two and then I would be replaced by a female coach.”
Steve Douglas, now 83, remained on the University of Illinois faculty for 35 years until his retirement in 2000. He and his wife now reside in Los Angeles, California.
jerry mayhewPhD candidate in physical education at the U of I, was chosen by Kahrs to guide Illini’s women’s athletics program.
An undergraduate student at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, Mayhew had assisted his wife, Barbara, in the girls’ program at Urbana High School. He brought in UI undergraduate Judy Harrison to help out during that 1974-75 season, but they only served one year.
After more than 40 years teaching at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, Dr. Jerry Mayhew is now Professor Emeritus of Exercise Science at TSU.
Kahrs filled her vacancy as a women’s gymnastics coach with Kim Musgravewho was just a few weeks away from graduating from Temple University.
Musgrave had joined the U of I physical education staff as a dance instructor, but had only limited experience in gymnastics. She learned the intricacies of the sport from Illini’s male coach, Yoshi Hayasaki. Musgrave’s team from 1974 to 1975 was divided into two parts: beginners, who made up about 50% of the team, and intermediate and advanced gymnasts. She coached the Illini for two seasons.
Said Musgrave in a 1974 daily illini story, “The biggest difficulty I had was getting the girls to work really hard. There are a few girls who are really serious about gymnastics, but most of them are on the team for the pleasure.”
Kim Musgrave’s current whereabouts could not be identified.
Twenty-nine-year-old Californian Jeanne Hultzenwas Kahrs’ pick to fill the swimming coach opening.
Hultzen, who was assisted in that first season by volunteer dive coach Doug Ward, had just completed her master’s degree in physical education at Cal State-Sacramento.
She had recently served as head of the swimming program at Watsonville High School in California. She was replaced after just one season by Ann Pollack.
Jeanne Hultzen’s current whereabouts could not be identified.
Illini’s women’s tennis head coach job went to Peggy Pruitwho was studying for her doctorate in physical education administration at the University of Illinois.
The University of Kentucky graduate had captained the UI Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (WISA) team for the previous three seasons. Pruitt served only one varsity season at Illinois.
Following her long and successful career as a coach and administrator at Ohio University, Dr. Pruitt was recently inducted in 2022 into the Mid American Conference Hall of Fame. OU named its field hockey facility after him 23 years ago.
Illini’s seventh trainer from Kahrs was Kathie Haywoodhired to lead UI’s volleyball program.
A standout volleyball and basketball player at Washington University in St. Louis, she was blessed to inherit a UI club team that ranked second to the Chicago Circle during the state competition. Haywood was replaced after just one season by Terry Hite.
Dr. Kathleen Haywood is a retired associate dean and professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.