Press / Linn County

She Came a Long Way…But Don’t Call Her ‘Baby’

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation…”

— Susan B. Anthony

LINN COUNTY — Coming of age at a time when athletic opportunities for women were still very limited, Brookfield native and former Marceline IDA Director Mary Alice Hill decided at an early age to be the change she sought in the world around her.

Tomorrow, Hill will be among notables like Natalie Cole, Lena Horne, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver to be honored by the Women’s International Center (WIC) during the 26th Anniversary Living Legacy Awards to be held on the University of San Diego campus. WIC is a nonprofit organization with the primary goal of  “celebrat[ing] the accomplishments and positive and lasting contributions of women…to humanity.”

The oldest of four girls, Mary Hill was raised on a rural Brookfield farm in a family that largely ignored traditional gender-specific roles. “I started driving a tractor when I was six years old,” recalls Mary. “In my home, we would all do whatever job needed to be done. My father would do housework at times, and my mother would drive the tractor and help milk the cows. There was no discrimination.” Mary would learn, to her frustration, that in the sports world of the 1950s and 60s, gender discrimination was alive and well. “I couldn’t believe that in those days there were no sports for girls except for a summer softball team,” says Mary. She pitched so effectively for the girl’s summer league, the local men’s Graff-Pepsi softball team asked her to pitch for them, but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. And although there was no girl’s basketball team at Brookfield R-3 back then, the boy’s coach recognized Mary’s exceptional abilities to dribble, pass and shoot and invited her to participate in their practices. After graduating from Brookfield High in 1958, Mary attended college at Northeast Mo. State Teacher’s College NEMSU) where she majored in Physical Education and Recreation. Play days were the women’s alternative to traditional meets back in those days, and one of Mary’s instructors asked her to represent NEMSU some of the field events. “She asked me to throw the javelin, shot and discus, but knew nothing about those events,” remembers Mary. “She told me to get some instruction from the men’s track and field coach, but he said he was too busy to help me, so I watched the men practice with no prior knowledge and a competition just three days away.” Mary placed second in all three events and discovered in the process that proficiency in them would require weight training. However, the men’s track and field coach refused to even allow her to enter the weight room, let alone touch the equipment. After her parents bought her weights, a discus and javelin, Mary began a self-directed training regimen and not only placed first in all three events the following year, but also broke the state records. Her performance with the javelin wasn’t bested by another woman until 2003. Although she didn’t make the cut, Mary tried out for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1967 and the following year enrolled at Texas Women’s University (TWU) where she was a graduate assistant and competed in AAU and U.S. Federation-sanctioned track and field events for women. After helping the TWU Women’s Track Team place first in the nation for three years running, Mary landed a coaching job at Colorado State University (CSU) and became the Director of Women’s Athletics there. Although the CSU Women’s Track Team set new national records, Mary and two future Olympians she helped prepare had to pay their own traveling expenses. It was 1972, the year Title IX became the law prohibiting gender discrimination by any institution of public education receiving federal funding. Despite the fact Title IX was still untested, Mary felt she had to put it to the test when the CSU administration refused to increase funding for women’s athletics. The women’s programs had an annual budget of $5,500, while the men’s was $5 million. Although Mary won her Title IX lawsuit, she lost her job. Mary was unflappable; she accepted a position at San Diego State University (SDSU) as Associate Director of Women’s Athletics in 1976 and over the next 10 years, rose to the rank of Director of Athletics there, the first women to ever hold that title at a Division I college in the U.S. It would be 10 years before another woman was able to do so. During her tenure at SDSU, Mary rose to the rank of President of the Western Athletic Conference and was elected to the then all-male National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Council. As an NCAA Council member, Mary secured equal pay for female coaches at SDSU and, with the assistance of the Scripps McDonald Center, developed a drug/alcohol education program for athletes and a drug-testing policy that was eventually adopted in some form by the rest of the Division I colleges in the U.S.

The victory over entrenched collegiate policies and programs would have been the pinnacle of achievement for many, but in 1989 Mary took on a new mission as Women/Civilian Director of the Recreation Division of the U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton. During her four-year tour with the Marines, Mary founded the Operation Desert Shield Support Walk, a support program for military families.

Before all was said and done, Mary had made an appearance on Good Morning America, thrown out the first pitch to open a San Diego Padres baseball game, and was named Executive Director of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports in Reston, VA.

Mary finally came home to stay for a while in 1995 when she moved to Marceline to care for her mother. Taking the job of Director of the Marceline IDA, Mary helped initiate work on the Santa Fe Depot that was eventually converted into the beautiful museum we enjoy today, “directed all aspects of the renovation of Disney’s boyhood home,” and proposed Walt’s Dream for Marceline, which brought visibility, jobs and revenue to Marceline.

By last year, the Scripps McDonald Center in San Diego had treated over 30,000 people for substance abuse but Scripps had decided to dissolve the program. At the request of Marianne McDonald, founder of the McDonald Center, Mary returned to California and is currently in the process of finding a new home for the pioneering treatment facility.

Like Roberta Gibb (1966) and Katherine Switzer (1967) who had run the Boston Marathon even though women were forbidden to do so, Mary Alice Hill has come a long way without an audience. That will all change tomorrow when she takes the stage at the University of San Diego to receive her Living Legacy Award.


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