QUEENS COLLEGE TRAILBLAZERS IN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
(1968-1981) TO HOLD REUNION JANUARY 17
-- Basketball Stars, Including Olympic Silver Medalist, Lay Ground for WNBA;
Was First Women’s Team to Play Madison Square Garden --
NEW YORK, January 9, 2004 -- Long before the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) propelled women’s basketball to the forefront of today’s sports world, a group of basketball players from Queens College was garnering unprecedented media attention, setting new records and breaking ground for women’s athletics across the nation.
The Queens College women’s basketball team from 1968-1981 enjoyed a period of unprecedented success, unparalleled to this day, with one member going on to compete for the U.S. Olympic Team and European leagues, and many playing professionally for the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), the forerunner of today’s WNBA. On Saturday, January 17, 2004 this group will hold a reunion, bringing together the former superstars and coaches to commemorate this important era. According to the reunion organizers, the team during this era involved some 83 players, coaches and managers.
The event will be held in the Fitzgerald Gymnasium at Queens College, beginning at 4 pm. At 5 pm, the current Queens College women’s basketball team will compete against CW Post College. A ceremony honoring these trailblazers will be held during half-time, and following the game, there will be a dinner reception.
“This reunion marks a culmination--an acknowledgment of this era,” said Gail Marquis, former QC team member, Olympic silver medalist, and player for the New York Stars and New Jersey Gems, both WBL teams. “The years from 1968-1981 were not only the glory days for women’s basketball at Queens College, but also for New York.”
Indeed, the Queens College women’s basketball team during this period was one of New York’s finest, becoming the first ever to compete in a national tournament. The team ranked among the top 10 nationwide from 1972-1978, and finished second in the country in 1973. The following season, it went on to beat Immaculata College, the number one team, and in 1975, the QC team became the first women's basketball team ever to play in the famed Madison Square Garden.
When the Olympics included women’s basketball for the first time in 1976, Queens College player Gail Marquis helped the U.S. win a coveted silver medal. Just one year later, QC Women’s Basketball Team coach Lucille Kyvallos was selected to lead the World University Games’ U.S. team, which also went on to win a silver medal with some assistance from Marquis and QC teammate Althea Gwyn. For this success, and in tribute to her leadership at Queens College during this golden era, Kyvallos was recently inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We set goals, and we tried to be the best that we could be,” Kyvallos recalled. “We developed a pioneer program and set a model for young high school and college kids who wanted to play basketball. At the time, it wasn’t thought that women could be skilled and competent in team sports, but we helped change that image.”
“We drew thousands of people to the college, which, in the history of women’s basketball, was unheard of,” said Barbara Riccardi, who played for the QC team from 1970-74 and was later drafted by the NY Stars (but didn’t play). “We were extremely successful, and the media, including television and radio, were just starting to pay attention.”
According to Richard Wettan, director of athletics at Queens College since 1977, the new interest was due partly to a heightened awareness of women’s issues overall, and partly to the 1972 federal passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, which prohibits sexual discrimination in educational institutions and programs.
“This was a period of incredible growth,” said Wettan. “Women’s athletics were just emerging and attitudes towards women athletes were changing. Also, Title IX was a factor in bringing women’s athletics to the Olympics. We’re very proud that the Queens College women’s basketball team played a strong role in gaining national recognition for women’s athletics, and particularly women’s basketball.”
“It was a time of distinction,” Marquis agreed. “We were just starting to awaken and grab hold. The Helen Reddy song, ‘I Am Woman,’ was, in fact, the song that was played before our game at Madison Square Garden. We had a unique place in history, and sometimes, your accomplishments are told over time.”