As Title IX era dawned, a first women’s athletic scholarship created national buzz

Laura Silvieus
Laura Silvieus (left) and University of Chicago women's basketball coach Patricia Kirby in 1976/University of Chicago Library

In the pivotal summer of 1972, Mary Jean Mulvaney, the chairman of the University of Chicago women’s physical education department, went to the admissions office to point out that the university had an athletic scholarship for men named after Amos Alonzo Stagg, the Hall of Fame football coach and innovator, but no equivalent for women.

By that fall, the University of Chicago established the Gertrude Dudley Scholarship, named after the administrator who came to the Windy City in 1898 and quickly created organized sports for women at the school.

The scholarship gained national headlines while Title IX, passed into law that same summer of ’72, would bring meaningful change to college sports in following years.

The Dudley scholarship was billed by media as “what may be the nation’s first academic-athletic scholarship for women.”

Wayland Baptist University in Texas previously had scholarship female basketball players. Some female track athletes from Tennessee State’s acclaimed Tigerbelles program received paying jobs before the Title IX era. Also in early 1973, the University of Miami began awarding female athletic scholarships.

MORE: NBC Sports celebrates 50th anniversary of Title IX

So the University of Chicago calls the Dudley the first nationally advertised athletic scholarship for women. (There was previously a Dudley scholarship at Dudley’s alma mater, Mount Holyoke, a private liberal arts women’s college in Massachusetts, for a student in “good physical condition.”)

Parade magazine, inserted into Sunday newspapers across the country, mentioned the University of Chicago scholarship in its March 18, 1973 issue. In a section titled “Keeping Up … With Youth,” at the bottom of the page, under the headline, “For Girls Only,” the article ended by telling readers how to apply in writing.

Mulvaney, who died in 2019, said she received “bags and bags and bags of applications,” according to the university. Reports from 1973 said more than 1,000 applicants.

Originally intended for one recipient, the school ended up choosing two because of the interest: Noel Bairey, a nationally ranked swimmer from Modesto, California who graduated high school in three years, and Laura Silvieus, a basketball and softball standout (and class president and valedictorian) from Kingsville, Ohio. Neither remembered what the application entailed.

They were mentioned in The New York Times. Bairey, now Bairey Merz, made the cover of Parade with the headline, “Our Women Athletes Achieve New $tatus.”

“My high school had just started offering sports for women,” Silvieus said by phone. “So to learn that there was a full tuition scholarship to play sports? Sign me up. I had five siblings from a small town, and there wasn’t a lot of money to pay for school. So it just sounded like a dream.”

Bairey Merz and Silvieus said they weren’t thinking about Title IX when they were awarded the scholarship in 1973.

“It preceded the Title IX breakthrough,” Bairey Merz said. “We played a small part, being these first athletic scholars, and the University of Chicago played a role. It wasn’t Stanford. It wasn’t Harvard. It wasn’t USC.”

It was Mulvaney, the women agreed.

“Noel and I were just players on the stage, and she was the director,” Silvieus said.

Bairey Merz recalled Mulvaney standing six feet tall with elegant, coiffed hair and always wearing a skirt and pearls.

“She was a bit of a barnstormer,” Bairey Merz said. “She would enter the room and kind of take over.”

Even though both women had their tuition paid for, there were still disparities when they matriculated.

MORE: ‘In Their Court’ podcast examines evolution of Title IX through women’s basketball

“It just didn’t occur to me that they would give you the scholarship and then not provide you with the resources,” Bairey Merz said. “The men got to go off to all these great meets, and they got fed, and they got the Speedo suits, and they got workout gear, and the women got nothing.

“The first year, the swim coach was also the badminton coach, and she was also a chain smoker. They decided that the coach would drive me to these meets, which she resented a lot. She would chain smoke the whole time. So I would sit on the passenger side with the window open in the middle of winter.”

The female swimmers were provided a bus the following year, Bairey Merz said.

Bairey Merz and Silvieus graduated and continued their education. Silvieus got her MBA at Chicago and later managed a law firm.

Bairey Merz believes that, had she not gotten the Dudley scholarship, she likely would have stayed in state and gone to the University of California, Davis.

A University of Chicago degree helped her get into Harvard Medical School, launching a career that led her to become director of the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in Los Angeles.

Soon after the University of Chicago created the Dudley, female sports scholarships proliferated.

The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which governed women’s college sports before the NCAA took over in 1982, prohibited athletic scholarships until a 1973 lawsuit. Hall of Fame basketball player Ann Meyers is often cited as the first big-time female college scholarship athlete, enrolling at UCLA in 1974.

Who knows what impact the University of Chicago, which became an NCAA Division III program, had on what was to come. What’s clear is that it was ahead of its time, even if by a matter of months.

“There was a lot of publicity surrounding this scholarship,” Silvieus said. “And I think it made other schools and women think about it.”

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback


Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

The top seed Alcaraz beat 112th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Spaniard gets 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the third round. Djokovic, the No. 3 seed, swept 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 to reach a third-round date with 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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