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From the archives: Mary Roby broke down a few doors for female athletes

NOTE: Dr. Mary Roby, a pioneer for women’s athletics at Arizona and across the nation, died Monday in Tucson. She was 85, having been retired from Arizona since 1989. Long time Tucson Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson wrote the following on June 3, 1995:

There’s a “hall of fame” for everything, it seems, and so many of them, I swear, they ought to have a hall of fame hall of fame.

It’s all about recognizing an individual’s achievement, though, and that’s fine.

But superstars such as Mary Roby do a lot more for a hall of fame than vice versa.

Women’s intercollegiate athletics would not be where it is today were it not for Roby.

She spent 40 years – 31 at the University of Arizona – opening doors (and breaking down a few) on behalf of female athletes.

Mary will be among 16 athletic administrators inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (whew!) Hall of Fame June 19 in Las Vegas.

She worked long and hard, and in virtual obscurity, to earn for women’s sports a place at the intercollegiate athletics table.

Mary and a handful of other pioneers (survivors would be more like it) endured decades of second-class citizenship, holding the course long enough for the rest of us to wake up.

For years, women’s sports in this country amounted to Mildred Didrikson Zaharias and mandatory PE classes.

Collegiately, the girls were offered games that by today’s standards would be thought of as silly and sexist.

Women’s sports were more like picnic games, three-legged races and egg-catching. It was stuff the girls did between baking cookies in home economic class and shopping for prom dresses.

There was a little bit of softball, some field hockey and archery.

Oh yeah, and a six-person version of basketball guaranteed to bore you into a coma.

Mary Roby was there for all of it. She was there when nobody cared.

She fought the battle to establish financial aid for women athletes, she helped develop programs and set up leagues to promote competition.

Her skills here at UA provided a leadership model for women across the country.

She worked for and helped found the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, the first real organizational force women had in sports.

And Mary got up early enough to witness the dawn of Title IX, celebrated its benefits and rolled with the punches from the wounded male-pride backlash.

Through it all, this self-proclaimed “non-feminist’ has held firm with reason, commitment and that glorious, though indefinable strength called class.

Mary, a 1948 UA graduate, earned a masters degree at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and a Ph.D. at Southern Cal. When she retired at UA in 1989, she was associate athletic director for sports programs.

In recent years women have made remarkable advances in college sports, even got an NCAA president (Judy Sweet, a Mary Roby protégé).

Mary never received a lot of national attention, but she opened doors for those who did.

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