First varsity women's hoop team returns home
KEENE, N.H. 1/22/10 - While hundreds of former players are expected to return to Keene State when the College celebrates 40 years of sponsoring intercollegiate women's basketball on Saturday, a few in attendance might feel a special tug at their heart strings as they step on the Spaulding Gym court.
Several members of the 1969-70 team - the team that ushered in the era of varsity women's basketball at KSC, will be on hand for the special event.
"I'm looking forward to not only seeing many of my former teammates, but also meeting some of the players that followed me," said Betty Misiaszek, a standout member of team now residing in Marlow.
While Keene State (then Keene Normal School) had a varsity women's basketball team as far back as the 1920s, the full-fledged varsity intercollegiate program began in the 1969-70 season, or one year BB (before Ron Butcher came to town).
Long before the implementation of Title IX, Kay Saucier (then Karen Booth), with the encouragement of her fellow coaches and administrators, brought about the birth of intercollegiate varsity women's basketball at the College. "I absolutely take a good deal of pride in that accomplishment," Saucier said. "The coaches had a vision of a women's program. We were breaking new ground."
Gone were tunics and the six-man team rules, and in were uniforms (they wore the field hockey uniforms the first season), Converse sneakers, and the opportunity to display their athletic skills on a full court. "It was like heaven," said Misiaszek. She, Sue Bateman, and Jean Andrew served as captains of the initial team.
"Everybody was excited about going varsity," said Andrew. "We had a new coach who was pretty gung-ho, and we got pretty serious about the game."
Saucier (Booth) was a disciplinarian. Her players called her Sergeant Booth, due to her military background and methodic drills, and under her tutelage the Owls posted an undefeated 10-0 record in their inaugural season.
They might have been the new kids on the block, but the Owls were talented. The athletic Misiaszek was a magician on the court, Andrew was a gifted ball-hander, and Nancy Balla, who currently operates a farm in Surry, provided the team with deadly outside shooting. KSC also had size, courtesy of Stephanie Nostrand, a six-foot center originally from East Alstead.
The nine-player squad also included Tina Lefferts, Linda Maree, Nancy Cochrane, and Susan Bateman's younger sister, Kim Bateman. The Bateman sisters are Winchendon, Mass. natives.
A freshman on the team, Lefferts, now living in Swanzey, said the dynamics between the coach and players created a winning atmosphere. "It was a real cohesive bond, like a point guard hitting a center for a basket," she said. "That's the feeling of camaraderie and connection that we had."
"We were a bunch of players that just loved the game," said Misiaszek. "It was so exciting for us to play full court. We didn't care who we played ... bring it on."
The players held their well-attended home games in the recently dedicated Spaulding Gym and piled into the "Checker," a long station wagon, to travel to away games. "It was fun, like an adventure," said Misiaszek, who was a member of KSC's inaugural hall of fame class in 1986.
The Owls were a close-knit group off the court as well. Team members shared a house and often got together for social activities. "Betty would play the guitar, and we would all sit around and sing," said Sarah Bingham, who served as team manager along with Chris Galgano and Norma Kawecki.
The Owls, who outscored opponents 469-257, concluded their memorable first season with wins over Mount Wachusett Community College (59-22) and UMass-Amherst (36-31).
Laying the foundation for future teams, the 1969-70 squad opened the door for numerous women athletes to bring their basketball talents to Keene State. Balla perhaps best described this major cornerstone in the history of KSC athletics when she called it "one of the best times of my life."