Woman on men’s college tennis team wins conference rookie-of-the-week honors. Remind me: Why isn’t D3 tennis co-ed?April 15, 2011 – 3:43 PM
By Laura Pappano
Last week after Wheelock College freshman Claire O’Donoghue, a member of the Men’s Tennis Team (yes, you read that correctly), earned a 6-1, 6-0 victory in singles and an 8-6 win in doubles with her male partner (plus narrowly lost another match in the third set), she was named New England Collegiate Conference Rookie of the Week.
That makes O’Donohue, of East Haven, CT, the first woman to win such honors in one of the conference’s seven men’s sports.
Aside from the texts and Facebook kudos, O’Donoghue appreciates the nod — a lot. “Because it’s a men’s sport, I feel like it’s a greater honor, like I proved myself,” she said during a phone interview.
Wheelock College Athletic Director Diana Cutaia explained via e-mail why under Title IX rules three women currently play on the Wheelock Men’s Tennis Team. In short, because men have been the under-represented gender at Wheelock, she’s added sports teams to accommodate their interests. “Because we don’t offer a women’s team the NCAA allows women to participate on the men’s team,” she writes.
While Cutaia says interest in tennis among women has been great enough to consider starting a women’s team (though notes, finances, Title IX, and other matters to weigh), O’Donoghue prefers playing with the guys. “I like the team the way it is,” she says. “I like the competition.”
So why, again, can’t DIII tennis be coed? Sure, O’Donoghue says some opponents fuss when they face her. “One guy said it was ‘degrading’ playing women,” she recalls. “It just gave me more motivation.”
O’Donoghue says many male players mistakenly expect victory just because she’s female. “They really do get mad when you beat them,” she says. “There are some people who don’t want to play girls. I just play how I know how to play. If I lose, I lose, If I win, I feel even better.”
Last week at least, she played well enough to earn some wins — and an historic honor.
Might it be time for coed college tennis in Division III? And not as a Title IX-enabled exception, but as a common sense way to promote good play and take a whack at lingering sexism?