Albion's Washburns: A Family Tradition In Women's Athletics

Albion's Washburns: A Family Tradition In Women's Athletics

As it celebrates its 125th anniversary, the MIAA proudly boasts its stature as America’s oldest collegiate conference. Melissa Washburn, ’81, a three-sport athlete who was inducted into the Albion College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993, paused to reflect on the contributions of the individuals who made it possible for her mother, Ruth, ’37, to participate in athletics long before Title IX legislation was passed.

 “There were progressive women in the MIAA who believed women should have the same opportunity (in athletics),” Washburn, who was voted captain of Albion’s field hockey, basketball, and softball teams her senior year. “The MIAA was more supportive of athletic opportunities for women than the state colleges were.”

Melissa recalled how Ruth was playing five-on-five basketball back in the ‘30s. The Washburns are the only mother-daughter pair inducted into Albion’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Ruth was the No. 1 singles player on the tennis team and she also participated in field hockey and served as treasurer and president of the Women’s Athletic Association.

Melissa also noted Char Duff, who arrived at Albion in 1956 as a faculty member and as field hockey and women’s tennis coach after earning her master’s degree at the University of Michigan.

“Char came to Albion with a really good background in physical education,” Melissa said. “She helped start field hockey clubs in Ann Arbor and Detroit and the Michigan College Field Hockey Association in the 1960s.”

Albion women interested in athletes also had an ally in Frank Joranko, ’52, who returned to the college in 1973 as baseball and football coach and later became the school’s athletic director.

“Frank did not discourage women from pursing athletics,” Melissa said. “I believe other administrators in the league faced far more push back.”

Melissa, who remains active in Albion athletics by serving as scorekeeper at home women’s basketball games and participating in the annual women’s basketball alumni game, still looms large in the MIAA women’s basketball records. Her 9.8 rebounds per game is the fifth-highest career average in the league, and her career scoring average of a shade better than 17 points per game is seventh-best.

She longs for the opportunity to share her memories since female athletes arriving on campus today have had so many opportunities before they graduate from high school.

 “I hope coaches remind athletes what Title IX is,” Melissa said. “It’s like civil rights legislation for women.”