With the 50th anniversary of Title IX occurring this past June 23rd, I was not surprised when a reference request came for early footage from Spartan athletics history. A researcher was hoping to find moving images from the May 1979 AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Track and Field Championships, which were held at Michigan State University’s Ralph Young Field. The likelihood that material from this event would surface was minimal.
A box of unlabeled films (one listed simply as “BASKETBALL” on its can) provided a glimmer of hope. The films were brought over to the Audiovisual Preservation Lab in University Archives & Historical Collections. Inspections were conducted to determine immediate preservation concerns and to confirm content on each reel. One reel, listed on its leader as “MENS INV. GOLF & WOMAN TRACK”, turned a glimmer of hope into a pretty good chance.
Unfortunately, the footage from the film was not from the 1979 championship meet. However, it did turn out to be one of two Spartan athletic events that took place on Saturday, May 7, 1977. The first event on the reel provided the best clue: the final frames of the men’s golf event indicating the 12th annual Spartan Invitational, which took place at Forest Akers Golf Club on MSU’s campus. An online search of a local newspaper from the following day showed that the Spartan women’s track and field team also hosted a Spartan Invitational at Ralph Young Field that same day.
The team was led by head coach Cheryl Bridges (now Treworgy), a world-record holding marathon runner, who had just been hired at MSU earlier that year. Her duties at Michigan State [would] include assisting in the administration of MSU’s growing women’s athletics program as well as heading the women’s track and field coaching staff.1 The Spartan team would finish 1st in this eight-team event. This victory could have aided in justifying equal opportunities for federal funding for women’s athletics under Title IX (which had passed in 1972). Full compliance of the law was not required until 1978, which allowed appropriate time for universities to make adjustments in budgets, recruitments, and scholarships for women. Still, many universities, including MSU, did not meet these requirements by the deadline.2
For Bridges, the environment at the MSU Athletics offices became toxic, ultimately leading to her resignation in less than three years. In 1981, she and then-husband Steve Flanagan, also a runner, became parents to [a daughter,] Shalane [Flanagan]. Shalane would grow up to become a great runner in her own right with four Olympic appearances (capped by winning the silver medal in the 10,000 meters in the 2008 Olympics), and the distinction of becoming the first American woman to win 1st place in the New York City Marathon since 1977.
In a June 28, 2022, article in the Indianapolis Star, Shalane Flanagan comments on how little she knew about Title IX before speaking with her mother or researching a high school paper. As much as any mother and daughter could, Cheryl [Bridges] Treworgy and Shalane Flanagan represent changes Title IX brought over 50 years.3 The film, which has been preserved and digitized, can now be seen online at https://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/162-565-7609/msu-mens-golf-msu-womens-track-and-field-1977/.
- “MSU women’s track coach a record-setter.” Lansing State Journal, 23 Apr 1977, p. 37
- Geske, Nicole. “Taking a stand: the struggles of Title IX at MSU”. MSU Campus Archaeology Program website, 18 Mar 2014 http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=2741
- Woods, David. “Indy runner Cheryl Treworgy paved daughter’s pathway to Olympic glory.” Indianapolis Star, 28 Jun 2022 https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/2022/06/28/cheryl-treworgy-shalane-flanagan-new-york-city-marathon-north-central-high-school/7532639001/