Recently, St. John’s women athletes have been earning great recognition seen through WCAC champions, making DCSAA all teams, committing to D1 schools, and making appearances in newspapers. But where did all this start? How did these athletes and athletic programs become so dominant? It starts with St. John’s becoming a coed school in 1991.
This was during a time when St. John’s and many other local all-boy schools were seeing a tremendous decline in enrollment and therefore were forced to become coed to remain open. In 1991, St. John’s welcomed their first women students. These 16 students came from Immaculata, an all girls school that had closed while they were juniors. Wanting to finish school together, they all decided to go to St. John’s together. These 16 students provided a new opportunity for St. John’s. Jamie Ready, St. John’s alumni and first woman into the St. John’s athletic hall of fame, said, “Not only was this an opportunity for St. John’s to recruit girls, but it also made the school more attractive for boys who were looking for a coed education.”
Once the school became coed, John Ricca, the at the time Athletic Director, mentioned that the school needed to offer an athletic program for these young women. With the small percentage of women on campus, the school was only able to fill one sport per season. The sports picked were soccer, basketball, and softball due to their popularity. These programs mimicked the same intensity as shown in the respective boy’s teams. Practicing 5 times a week for every sport and even 6 days for basketball. This hard work paid off in the end as the women’s basketball team won their first, but certainly not their last, WCAC championship in the first four years of its creation.
Ready noted that this commitment did not just pertain to St. John’s but most of the developing women’s teams in the area. Although serious, there was a level of flexibility given to the athletes. During Ready’s high school years, boys and girls alike were able to play 1 to 3 sports a year without the feeling of falling behind in one. Ready played three sports all four years and was still able to play D1 basketball.
How did the St. John’s community react to these new sports teams? When it came to the response of St. John’s, there was tons of support. Although as Kristin Hosmer, a St. John’s alumni and the first woman on the board of trustees, said, “At first, I think we felt like guests rather than part of the community. The students who had been there since freshman year had expected to graduate as part of an all-male class, so there was an adjustment period. Initially, there weren’t many female students in attendance, so there weren’t many girls in leadership positions, and in some classes, I was the only or one of the very few girls in a classroom. It didn’t take very long to settle into classes and activities and it wasn’t long before St. John’s started to feel like home.”
This new home provided support to these young women athletes. Ready mentioned how her classmates (boys and girls) would go to her games, as well as having an enthusiastic teacher, Mr. Kenneth Cooper, who after a game would hang the score of the game in his room. These athletes did not just have the support of the St. John’s community but also the support of their fellow teammates. Ready said, “With the same group of girls playing these sports it created a great team chemistry.”
These first few years of women’s sports at St. John’s created the foundation for what these teams have become and laid the stepping stones for many more sports, men and women’s, to be created. Ready said, “It was exciting to be a part of the foundation that helped build what are now powerhouse sports teams at St. John’s.” Hosmer described how that foundation impacts SJC now. ‘Today, female students are fully integrated into the fabric of St. John’s as scholars, athletes, and leaders, and it is amazing to see all of the accomplishments of these talented and driven young women,” Hosmer said.