Thursday, January 9, 2020

Meeting With Merrily

TigerBlog walked on the campus of Florida Atlantic University yesterday morning and and was struck by something fascinating.

People were wearing sweatshirts. And coats. Seriously. They were sort of bundled up.

TB? He was wearing shorts, a t-shirt and his lightest Princeton Athletics windbreaker - with the sleeves rolled up. And sunscreen.

It was around 10 am, and it was already warm. Maybe not quite hot yet, but certainly warm.

And people were dressed like it was, well, winter. Or at least late fall.

It's all about perspective, TB supposes.

He stood in the courtyard between the recreational facility and the alumni center, across the street from the football stadium, and took in the morning sunshine. It felt pretty good.

At one point, two FAU students walked towards him, on their way to the rec building. TB asked them if they were cold, and they said it was a chilly morning.

Perspective, right?

One thing TB has seen a lot of in Florida is cars with New York and New Jersey license plates. There are a lot of "snow birds" in this area at this time of year. They are the bane of the locals.

They come in November and leave in March. And they just make parking around here awful.

TB went to college in Philadelphia. He wonders what it would have been like to go to school in South Florida, where it is always warm. Would he have gotten anything done?

He's always said that he's a big fan of the change of seasons, and he supposes he still thinks that way. It's just that for someone who hasn't spent a lot of time in Florida in the winter in his life, it's still been pretty good to be here for a few days.

Of course this is a business trip for him. And the business is the beginning of the project on the history of women's athletics at Princeton as the 50th anniversary of coeducation approaches.

The purpose of coming to Florida was to meet with the woman who started women's athletics at Princeton, a woman named Merrily Dean Baker.

It was 50 years ago that she took a position at Princeton as the first female athletic administrator and one two female administrators at the school, along with one in the Dean of the College's office. It was the two of them, and the first 250 female students.

And that was it.

From that beginning grew a model women's athletic program, one that has been a source of incredible pride for the University. And it all started with Baker, who is now retired and leaving in Florida.

When TB first talked to Peter Farrell, the longtime women's track and field coach, about the project, Peter's first words were "find Merrily Dean Baker and talk to her. You can't write about the history of women's athletics at Princeton without starting with her."

TigerBlog knows a lot about Princeton Athletics history. He knows a lot about Princeton women's athletics history. He'd heard a lot about Merrily Dean Baker through the years, but he'd never met her or spoken to her until he was able to track her down in early December.

The last TB knew of her, she had been the Director of Athletics at Michigan State. In fact, she was the one who hired Tom Izzo to coach the Spartans' men's basketball team (and a coach in whom she saw promise to coach the football team, one who didn't quite last long in East Lansing but went on to bigger things later on; his name is Nick Saban).

He figured she might still be in Michigan, but instead it turned out she had retired to Florida. The two spoke a few times on the phone, and TB was very much looking forward to coming here and hearing what she had to say (and no, not just because of the weather).

It's because she is what Peter Farrell said she is, which is the starting point for women's athletics at Princeton. For two days, she and TB have spoken for several hours about her, her background, how she came to Princeton, the challenges she faced, the plans she made and in short the entire story of how Princeton's women's athletics were born. Included in these conversations was the pride that she felt when Princeton selected a woman, Mollie Marcoux Samaan, as its current Ford Family Director of Athletics six years ago.

In addition, they spent time yesterday at Florida Atlantic, near her house, getting a lot of her story on video (with a special thank you to FAU's Ryan Moran for agreeing to take the video).

It's been a fascinating story to hear, and TB is very much looking forward to putting it together for you. And to telling the entire story of Princeton women's athletics history.

Anyway, all of that is coming soon.

For today, there are several more hours with Merrily Dean Baker and a chance to fill in the blanks that exist in the story. And to hear more of her stories.

They've certainly been more than worth the trip.


Mark Disler said...

What a great assignment. I arrived at Princeton in 1970 and well remember her and her role. I am sure you would also get interesting perspectives from the women athletes who were there at the beginning. The Genglers, Cathy Corcione, and so many others who laid the foundation.

BGA said...

Yup, it's all a matter of perspective. Or maybe relativity. I feel like pulling on my lightest windbreaker when I'm walking around the Princeton campus in late January and the temperature is a balmy 38 degrees. ;-)

BGA said...

Yup, it's all a matter of perspective. Or maybe relativity. I feel like pulling on my lightest windbreaker when I'm walking around the Princeton campus in late January and the temperature is a balmy 38 degrees. ;-)