Before Title IX, a comprehensive regulation that encouraged the inclusion of all genders and gender orientation in sports, women were not accepted or integrated into the sporting world. Sports for women both lacked an initiative and craved a pioneer that could lead females down the court.Ruth Gunden, an alumna, saw this opportunity and used her vision and love of athletics to carry it through.
“If it is okay for the men, then why would it not be okay for the women? That was my question,” said Gunden.
In 1953, Gunden began her journey to establish intercollegiate athletics for women at Goshen College. When she started at GC, the only opportunity for women to participate in sports was intramural and alumni varsity games.
But Gunden had a vision of something more than just being in literary societies. She began working toward equal play of woman in collegiate athletics.
“Way back then there wasn’t much,” said Gunden. “I requested permission from the president of Goshen College to help organize the first women’s athletic contest between similar schools as ours.”
With no negative publicity from community members, Gunden oversaw the building of a woman’s basketball program that began with Saturday contests of shortened games between other women’s teams from affiliated colleges.
The first game was against Grace College, a current conference rival.
“The biggest conflict was splitting gym time with the men’s team,” said Gunden. “They got the best times and then we scheduled ours around that. I heard almost no negative feedback about it.”
Gunden went on to expand women’s contests from basketball to volleyball and tennis as well.
She served as coach for all the women’s teams she started for many years, finding officials for each contest and leading teams to many wins.
When asked which game she loved to coach the most, Gunden replied “basketball” without hesitation.
Her love of the game and vision for women’s athletics was helped along by the introduction of Title IX as she pioneered through all the obstacles that came with the responsibility.