First Honored Female Athlete

Olivia Brown ’78 was a little worried when her father called from Kentucky to say he was flying up to Hartford for the weekend during the spring of her senior year. “I didn’t understand why he was coming up,” she recalls. “You didn’t just fly around in those days. I called my sisters. I got anxious.”

It turned out that the college had called Brown’s parents to let them know she would be the first recipient of the Susan E. Martin Award (senior female scholar-athlete of the year, named for Suzie Martin ’71, one of the first Trinity women to compete in intercollegiate athletics) and the Trinity Club of Hartford Award (senior female athlete of the year), both established in 1978 to honor female student-athletes. “There was a small ceremony in the athletic center,” recalls Brown, now a manager in commercial real estate in the Baltimore area. “I was blown away.”

Honoring female Trinity student-athletes was a long time coming in the 1970s. “When I got there in the fall of 1974, it really felt like a men’s school,” recalls Brown. “I didn’t anticipate that. … I came from a girls’ school in Louisville, Kentucky, where sports were really big. We had victory parades.

“Women’s athletics were not on the radar when I got to Trinity,” says Brown, who was captain of the field hockey team during her sophomore, junior, and senior years. “Our hockey field was thrown together and poorly maintained. When the football team was saving its field for home games, they would use our hockey field for practice and tear it up. It was really bad, with huge divots everywhere. Our uniforms were the rugby team’s cast-off jerseys. So, in the fall when it was hot, they smelled like men’s perspiration. They were gross. We wore the baseball team’s old shorts—stretchy men’s baseball shorts—and their cast-off socks.”

Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding, was beginning to gain traction at Trinity and other campuses across the nation. “When Trinity put the pieces together, they suddenly had to give us equal access, and while that may have been a little difficult for them, they stepped up,” Brown says.

By her sophomore year, the women’s teams had practice and game uniforms. “The football team stopped using our field for practice, and we received school-supplied equipment,” she says.

Brown also played lacrosse, and she fondly recalls Robin L. Sheppard M’76, who was in her first year of coaching in 1974. “She was new, feeling her way through field hockey and lacrosse, and she was so much fun,” recalls Brown. “Playing hockey and lacrosse at Trinity was a blast. Although there were frustrations about not really being acknowledged in the community, we didn’t have to prove anything, and we had winning seasons.”

Sheppard went on to work at Trinity for four decades, retiring in 2015 as associate director of athletics and professor of physical education, emerita. “Robin was such a dynamic, wonderful, kind, encouraging, lovely person,” Brown says. “She created a hockey and lacrosse world that everyone wanted to be part of.”

Next: First Female SGA President, Tami Voudouris Preston ’79, P’15