Track and field began in the late 1700s in England as walking, or “pedestrianism,” and traveled to the United States soon after. The Intercollegiate Association of Athletes of America first held men’s collegiate races in 1873, and the first collegiate women’s track and field competition in the United States was held at Vassar College in 1895. Despite exclusion from early track and field competition, American women had some exposure to the sport through footraces and athletic programs in their communities and, after the implementation of Title IX, physical education and athletics programs in schools and colleges. With especially high proportions of the medals won by women--many of them athletes from Southern schools like Tuskegee University--in the 1956 and 1984 Olympic games, American and especially African American female athletes began to dominate track and field by the last half of the 20th century, a tradition that continues in many events today. Although track would eventually become a popular college sport, it was mostly sponsored by industries and the AAU until the late 20th century. Men’s track at Wooster is first mentioned in the Index in 1905 under the leadership of Lynn Wilbur St. John but is noted as a major sport, implying that it had been an established part of Wooster’s physical education program for several years before becoming a varsity sport in 1923.
The first mention of women’s track and field in the Index occurred fifteen years later, in 1920, when a “T” for track was included in a crest on the cover page for women’s athletics. The same issue also included a photo collage of the class managers for track. Track was one of the “Big Six” sports for Women at Wooster; under Ruth Conrow, the head of the women’s physical education department at this time, female students would compete against each other for the class championship and for individual honors such as chevrons, which were awarded for 150 points in any one sport. Women could also earn a “W” with 500 points in different activities.
During inter-class competition, class managers were selected for each grade who organized practices and chose the teams. However, because track is more of an individual sport, the competition was mainly between individuals of classes rather than organized teams.
Wooster women competed in both indoor and outdoor track and field events. In indoor track, the women competed in buck jumping, traveling rings, the horse, parallel bars, ropes, and ladders. Outdoor track consisted of sprinting, jumping, and hurling/throwing. The events changed slightly year to year; in 1924-1925, basketball throwing was added as an event. The winners were based on a point system where the rewards consisted of chevrons and gold medals. These awards contributed to the women’s continued enthusiasm for the sport. During this time, track as well as swimming, tennis and hiking were known as the minor sports, opposed to basketball and field hockey, which were the major sports.
Mentions of women’s track in the Index are scare after 1933, as track and field became less acceptable for women due to social pressures and female students filtered into other sports. While men’s varsity track continued, women’s track was not re-established, this time as a club sport, in the 1970s.
In 1970, under Maria Sexton, a member of the women’s Olympic committee, three women--Pat Skelly, Lois Drinkwater, and Nancy Shaffer--were selected to compete at Wooster for two years at the club level as part of a special program under coach Bob Lafferty. The program was cut after its completion due to a lack of funding and competition. Nevertheless, it advanced the popularity of women’s track and field at the College and proved that female Wooster students could compete at a high level: all three women are now in the W Association Hall of Fame, and the first varsity team was created just ten years later.
In 1979, the Index shows an established club program for women’s track. The 1980-1981 season marked the first year where the College had a varsity women’s Track and Field. In the 80s, the program was referred to as the “Lady Scots,” before adapting the traditional name. Wooster competed within the AIAW, sending four women Scots to the national AIAW meet in their first year of competition. The relay team who qualified for the national AIAW meet consisted of four College of Wooster Hall of Famers: Robin Mayo, Charlene and Darlene Kemp, and Pam Willis, whose time in 1981 was just 0.5 seconds off the program record today. Robin Mayo stood out among the rest, as she still holds the record today for the fastest 100-yard time in program history. The first coach for women’s track and field at the College of Wooster was Craig Penney, who said that this was his first time coaching All-Americans, highlighting the unprecedented success of the 1980-1981 dominant Wooster relay quartet.
Since the 1984 season, the Wooster women’s track team has achieved continual success, with four consecutive NCAC Championships. Penney eventually became the coach for both the men’s and women’s teams, and remained the coach until 1989. Dennis Rice, who became coach after Penney, remains the head coach today. During Rice’s 31 years on the coaching staff, the Fighting Scots have won seven NCAC championships, four in indoor track and three in outdoor track. Coach Rice is also a three-time NCAC coach of the year.
Wooster’s track team has produced several notable female athletes in the last several decades. In the 1993-1994 season, three-time All-American Emily Moorefield was named NCAC runner of the year. Most recently, in 2016, three-time heptathlon All-American Hillary Coady placed second in the NCAA championship with 5,020 points. Overall, in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, 9 school records were broken in women’s track and field.
Track and Field information contributed by Davis Elkins, Maddy Ireton, and Kiley Kinnard.