‘And so was born a program’: Remembering Patricia Warcup
Patricia (Pat) Warcup helped usher UND women’s athletics into the modern age
Editor’s note: In honor of March as Women’s History Month, UND Today presents this story that pays tribute to Pat Warcup, 1931-2009, a former coach and women’s athletic director who in the 1960s helped reinvigorate women’s sports at UND, and assisted in founding one of the first intercollegiate sports conferences in the nation. A short video documentary of Women’s Athletics at UND appears at the end of the story.
Three-quarters of a century before Title IX was passed into law, women were playing sports at UND.
A UND Athletics article recognizing 50 years of Title IX notes that “women at UND had built teams as early as 1903, when Anna Veland started a recreational women’s basketball team.” Other sources such as “A Century of UND Sports” by Lee Bohnet, published in 1994, indicate that women played sports at UND even earlier than the 1900s.
The Title IX article mentions other leaders in women’s athletics such as Grace Osborne Rhonemus, who attended UND from 1923 to 1926. Dubbed the “Emerado flash” by the Grand Forks Herald, Rhonemus played a number of different sports including track and field, riflery and basketball.
Later, the 1920s marked the start of a downward curve in women’s extramural collegiate sports nationally, until women hungry for competition bent that curve back upward. One of those women was Patricia Warcup, a UND alum who returned to her alma mater in 1965 to serve as women’s physical education director.
She would prove to be a pioneer of the recent growth and emergence of women’s athletics at UND.
Nestled within the confines of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections in the Chester Fritz Library are Warcup’s papers. It’s an interesting collection of sports schedules, communications with alumni athletes, departmental communications and even a stopwatch that belonged to her.
Among those papers is a 2000 speech that Warcup gave at a Grand Forks banquet. The speech describes both Warcup’s journey and the larger journey of UND women’s sports since the beginning of the 1900s. It is a master class in wry humor, as she speaks about the dedication of the women coaches and athletes in the ’60s and ’70s.
“Intercollegiate competition for women at UND continued into the early 1920s,” Warcup said in the speech. “Then it all went away. It was suddenly discovered that girls and women were ‘too fragile’ to compete in athletic contests. Guess what replaced intercollegiate and interscholastic competition for women and girls? PLAYDAYS.”
Warcup goes on to describe the concept of a playday as a time when women traveled to other schools, formed teams and played games till lunch. After lunch, the games continued till 4 p.m., when the athletes bid their farewells “to the person from another school that you threw up with after lunch. No coaching, no practicing, no conditioning and no UND teammates!”
Warcup, and other leaders in women’s athletics such as Pat Mauch (1967-85 at UND), golf coach and coordinator of women’s athletics, and Dee Watson (from 1974 on), basketball and field hockey coach, helped usher in a new, organized era of women’s sports that made playdays a thing of the past.
A homegrown coach
Warcup was born in Grand Forks in May 1931. The Grand Forks Central graduate attended UND and earned a degree in education in 1956, followed by a master’s in 1958. She spent time coaching in California and Montana before returning in 1965 to UND, where she established and coached the first women’s basketball team. They went 8-0 in their first season.
“We introduced a fast break in a half-court game and blew everyone away,” she said.
But there were difficulties, particularly with money. In his history of UND sports, Bohnet wrote that only $1,000 was approved for women’s sports in the 1965-66 season — money to be spent on coaching and travel and food expenses.
Despite early victories in basketball, Warcup “had minimal success without the aid of scholarship assistance to attract top players,” Bohnet writes. “However, she should be remembered for the long hours she coached the players without regard to her own remuneration or the time involved.”
In her speech, Warcup said she took that $1,000 and “laundered that whole budget into an athletic fund and ran the program for the first three years on those monies … It gave an athlete $1.25 for food for away games. You could get a Big Mac and a small pop for that then. Life was good on the road. Coaches provided the cars and the gas.”
Through the efforts of Warcup and people such as golf coach LaVernia Jorgensen (in her speech and elsewhere in her papers, Warcup makes a point of crediting those who helped build women’s athletics at UND), more and more sports were added for women — sports such as tennis, swimming and softball, among others.
The Minn-Kota Conference
And while sports were being added, plans were underway to organize extramural competition for women. Competitions between Red River Valley colleges and colleges in Minnesota had been happening since 1965. In a May 2000 document about the founding of Minn-Kota, Warcup said the pressure to organize and form an actual conference was growing.
Representatives from UND, North Dakota State University, Bemidji State College, Concordia College and Moorhead State College met and hammered out rules and schedules for the conference. The charter was signed in 1972, after four years of meeting about the project. The Minn-Kota Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Conference was “a league of our own,” and one of the first intercollegiate leagues in the country, Warcup said in the document.
“We were beginning to get noticed,” she told that banquet in 2000. “Some people started showing up for games, so President Tom Clifford didn’t have to sit alone. He came to almost everything. Our No. 1 fan.”
The conference continued until 1979, when the Minnesota colleges withdrew to form a different conference. UND and NDSU then joined the North Central Conference, alongside men’s athletics.
And then came Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights legislation that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. While budgets still lagged, Bohnet wrote that space was converted into women’s locker rooms, and the training room became accessible to women.
But the timing of the law coincided with a feeling of burnout among women’s coaches, who were getting tired of teaching full time and then coaching in their spare time, Warcup said. Plus, while the price of Big Macs went up, the budget did not — and more and more colleges were beginning to catch up in athletic ability.
Warcup served as women’s athletic director from 1968 to 1970 and again from 1971 to 1973. In the early ’70s, she was tasked with reinvigorating women’s sports. Unpopular sports were cut, and she continued to fight for a bigger slice of the budget; by 1981, the budget was $631,500, Bohnet wrote.
In 1974, UND hired Dee Watson and Polly West, who were given “released time” for coaching that was on par with “minor men’s sports.” Watson saw success with the field hockey team, and West revived track and field and coached what Warcup called some of the “most successful teams in UND history.”
She credited the two coaches with developing more sophisticated women’s athletic teams, something earlier coaches, Warcup included, had always envisioned.
“And so was born a program started on funds squeezed from a laundry budget and from the pockets of coaches,” Warcup said at the banquet.
“With used equipment from the physical education program by coaches who taught full time and coached in their spare time, paid their own expenses, furnished their own cars and gas for the women athletes who made their own first uniforms, were so hungry for competition and so eager to succeed that they didn’t mind 6:30 a.m. conditioning and 10:30 p.m. practices (well, they minded, but did it anyway).”
“It was those women athletes and coaches of the 1960s and ’70s who created and nurtured the UND Women’s Athletic Program,” Warcup said, finishing her speech. “They didn’t hurdle the roadblocks (and believe me, they were many and tough), they ran right through them. Prime examples of ‘fragile women.’ ”