BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Bemidji State University Athletics along with the BSU Foundation and Alumni Association have announced a year-long celebration of the 50th year of women’s intercollegiate athletics at BSU. Festivities will begin with a kick-off social Oct. 6 at BSU’s American Indian Resource Center.
Former Bemidji State student-athletes, fans and friends of women’s athletics and members of the community are invited to participate in this special kick-off event to honor the founders of women’s athletics through photos, video, sharing memories and a short program. The event will take place following BSU’s Homecoming football game and will begin at 5 p.m. with a social hour followed by a program at 6 p.m. The cost of the event is $20 per adult, while children 12-and-under are free. Pre-register at: https://www.bsualumni.org/50th-Anniversary-Womens-Athletics
While Bemidji State has held a rich tradition of breaking barriers and setting trends in women’s athletics dating back to the 1920s, it took the initiative, leadership and dedication of a handful of special women to push women out of the shadows of club teams and extramurals and into the forefront of the collegiate athletic world by developing varsity teams and serving as a charter member of the first women’s athletics conferences in the country, the Minn-Kota Conference, in 1969-70. This group of pioneering women included: Dr. Marjory Beck, Dr. Ruth Howe, Betsy McDowell and Dr. Pat Rosenbrock.
Dr. Beck arrived at Bemidji State in 1963 as a physical education professor and went on to serve as the Department Chair of Women’s Physical Education. She became the first Women’s Athletics Coordinator in 1969 and served in that role until 1978. A key player in the formation of the Minn-Kota Conference, she was the league’s first president. She also pushed for the formation of the Minnesota Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (MAIAW) and served as its first president in 1971-72. Dr. Beck pushed to keep Bemidji State on the forefront of women’s athletics, which included hiring the institution’s first women’s athletic trainer in 1976. With the onset of more women’s teams popping up around the region, a push to realign leagues followed with the formation of the Northern Sun Conference, which Beck also lent her leadership as president beginning in 1979.
As a physical education teacher, Dr. Howe was a driving force in women’s participation as a coach, while her diligent work behind the scenes helped thrust Bemidji State women into intercollegiate athletics. She coached for more than 20 years beginning in 1964, while the teams were still participating as extramurals. In 11 years as the women’s basketball coach, she led the Beavers to Minn-Kota titles in 1972-73 and again in 1975-76. In 1976, she took over the women’s tennis team and would go on to place as high as second in the conference, losing only one match in 1978. She also led the team to back-to-back sixth-place finishes at the MAIAW State Tournament in 1979 and 1980. Howe, a teacher by vocation, carried that into the way she coached her teams. She taught fundamentals and developed players into young female athletes that were prepared to go on and teach the game to others themselves.
One of the most successful coaches in Bemidji State athletics history, McDowell joined the Women’s Physical Education Department as a faculty member in 1966 and was a key to the development of the women’s athletic programs. As a field hockey coach from 1966-1985, she ranks second to no other female coach in BSU history accumulating 388 wins. She led the Beavers to six Minn-Kota titles, six straight MAIAW state championships (1975-81), four AIAW Regional crowns (1976-79 and 1981) and qualified for the AIAW national championships seven times, finishing as high as sixth in 1979. Due to the changing landscape in women’s athletics, McDowell led Bemidji State to join the NCAA Division III ranks in 1981 and the Beavers finished seventh in the country, narrowly missing a chance to compete in the national championships. In 1982, McDowell also served as BSU’s first softball coach.
A physical education professor, director of women’s studies, women’s athletics director, versatile coach and resident historian, Dr. Rosenbrock was part of the Bemidji State faculty from 1969-2006. In addition, Dr. Rosenbrock served as a head coach at BSU for more than 30 years. Beginning in 1969, she took the helm of the women’s gymnastics and track and field programs, which included the first six years of gymnastics existence at BSU. Her gymnastics teams would win six Minn-Kota championships. Her track an field teams won the MAIAW state championship in 1973 and 1974, while she coached several significant individuals including 1975 AIAW national shot put champion Susan Alstrom. She took over the volleyball program in 1974 and continued in that capacity through the 1989 season. Her volleyball teams earned seven Minn-Kota titles, finished second at the MAIAW state tournament on three occasions, was the 1977 AIAW Region 6 runner up, earned NAIA District 13 championships in 1987 and 1988 and was the Northern Sun Conference champion in 1988. Dr. Rosenbrock also coordinated an effort to develop and archive a comprehensive history of women’s athletics at BSU, using that information to spark a celebration of the 30th anniversary of women’s athletics at BSU.
Please join Bemidji State in recognizing this significant milestone and these women for their efforts and accomplishments. Bemidji State University and BSU Athletics is was it is today due largely to the dedication of them.
The celebration will continue throughout the year with individual sport alumni weekends and will continue through the culminating family weekend and golf tournament in August of 2019. All events, along with photos, stories and other memories will be shared on the 50th Anniversary of Bemidji State Women’s Athletics Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/976176189207038/ and the BSU Alumni and Foundation website at: https://www.bsualumni.org/50th-Anniversary-Womens-Athletics .
Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.