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Marlene Mawson, 'the mother of Kansas women's athletics,' begins programs at KU

Marlene Mawson
Posted at 3:00 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 19:24:35-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Marlene Mawson is considered "the mother of Kansas women's athletics."

The Female Athlete of the Year Award is named after her, she is in the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame, and if it wasn't for her, women's sports at the University of Kansas might not be what it is today.

"When I went to college, there wasn't an opportunity for women to compete intercollegiatley," Mawson said.

That was motivation for Mawson to change things. In 1968, Mawson became an instructor in the women's physical education department at KU. That's where it all started.

"I first started the program, we had six sports and I coached four of them," Mawson said. "I coached field hockey in the fall, end of the fall was volleyball, beginning of winter was basketball and then in the spring it was softball, but then there wasn't an off season, you didn't compete in and you didn't continue working on the sport year-round like you do now."

Mawson did it all. She was the first to develop a serious women's program of intercollegiate athletics at KU, on top of her teaching and coaching schedules.

"Women's athletics started at the state level because no matter where you were, whether you were here at Kansas or you were on a coast or in some other state, there wasn't money in women's sports to go much of any place," Mawson said.

During her time as a coach and the director of women's athletics at KU, Mawson was never paid, but that didn't slow her down.

The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for women was one of the biggest advancements for women's college sports, and Mawson was at the center of it.

"AIAW started just about the same time at Title IX and a lot of people don't realize that women were competing in athletics on a national level prior to Title IX," Mawson said.

This was all before the NCAA played a role in women's sports and Mawson wanted it stamped in history, so she wrote a book about it called "Mawson's Mission: Launching Women's Intercollegiate Athletics at The University of Kansas."

"I was concerned about the fact that these women had succeeded, and nobody understood that nobody had a record of it," Mawson said.

In 2009, Mawson was inducted into the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame for her contributions to women's athletics.

"When you look at whether I succeeded or failed, I can only remember the successes because the failures were, well, let's just try again you know, until you are successful," Mawson said.