Staff Profile: Joan Parker Looks Back on 40 Years of Women's Sports at Berkeley
By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Life for women athletes wasn't much different in the late '60s and '70s when Parker coached tennis and volleyball at Berkeley. Athletic scholarships, eligibility requirements, trainers -- none of that existed for the women, recalls Parker, now executive director of Bear Backers. Two decades ago, she says, Cal's women's teams competed as sport clubs and practiced just four hours per week.
"The women's basketball and volleyball teams competed at Hearst Gym, with only four feet between the court and the walls," Parker recalls. "Basketball players slammed into the wall if they made a lay-up and referees got wiped on the pillars. The low ceiling meant that volleyball players couldn't pass properly."
But things have changed drastically, Parker notes from her busy office at 2223 Fulton.
"Today when our women's teams travel, they stay at first class hotels, get per diem for expenses and travel on buses and planes," she says. "They have shoe contracts and fancy uniforms. It's been wonderful to see women's athletic opportunities open up so much, and to have played a part in the transformation."
Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex at educational institutions receiving federal funds. That was the turning point for women's collegiate sports, says Parker.
In 1976 the Department of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics was established at Berkeley. The first women's athletic scholarships were awarded in 1977 under the rules of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which held national championships for women.
In 1981-82 the first women's NCAA championships were held in 10 sports. Today Cal has 17 women's varsity sports and 16 for men.
Growing up in San Marino near Pasadena, Parker was a Southern California junior tennis champion, traveling the tournament circuit with the likes of Billie Jean King, whom she once beat. "There were no pro possibilities for women back then," she notes.
Parker then starred on the Berkeley tennis team, graduating in 1963 with a major in physical education.
"I was a superjock, but I had to hide it," she recalls. "Outwardly I was a typical Sally Sorority girl. Sophomore year I was a pom-pom girl. It wasn't fashionable to be a serious female athlete in those days."
Parker earned a secondary teaching credential in physical education at Berkeley in 1964 and taught for a year in San Lorenzo. Then she returned to Cal and has been here ever since -- earning an MA in PE in 1966, then teaching and coaching women's sports until 1977, when she became associate athletic director in the newly formed Women's Athletic Department.
In 1983 she switched to fundraising, first for women's sports and then for all sports when the men's and women's intercollegiate athletic departments combined with recreational sports in 1991. That year she was honored as the National Athletic Fund Raiser of the Year.
Today, 40 years after first coming to Berkeley, Parker is executive director of Bear Backers, which numbers about 5,000 sports fans who give $50/year or more to Cal Athletics.
Parker's office overflows with Cal memorabilia, including a comprehensive collection of bears. Virtually her entire wardrobe is blue and gold, accented by nearly 30 pairs of bear earrings.
A knee injury ended her tennis playing four years ago, but Parker is still a big fan of Cal's women's teams.
"The players today are exceptional, both athletically and academically," Parker says. "They are wonderful role models for kids. It is especially rewarding to know they have opportunities to compete after college. Today, being a woman athlete is prestigious."