Bill Musselman was 31 when he coached the Gophers in a Big Ten basketball game for the first time on Jan. 8, 1972 at Williams Arena. The opponent was another 31-year-old, Bobby Knight, and the Indiana Hoosiers.
The attendance for the Gophers’ 52-51 victory was announced at 19,121 and there were another 4-5,000 people behind the west wall, watching on closed-circuit television in the hockey arena.
Five months later, on June 23, President Richard Nixon signed a bill containing the Education Amendments of 1972. This included the Title IX amendment intended to provide high school girls and collegiate women with equal opportunity to participate in sports competition at their schools.
On Nov. 9, 2018, there was again a very large crowd in Williams Arena to watch a young coach lead the Gophers, and there again were thousands of excited fans in the adjacent arena behind the west wall.
This time, the coach helping to bring basketball fans to the Barn was Lindsay Whalen, 35, and behind the wall in what’s now Maturi Pavilion there was another sellout crowd of 5,599 to watch Hugh McCutcheon’s volleyball team continue its unbeaten run in the Big Ten.
And 46 years after The Muss and his players were filling both sides of this historic and huge building, and 46 years after Title IX, both arenas were a popular attraction due to women athletes.
I can tell you this: When high schools and colleges started adding women’s athletics in the mid-‘70s, I was a sports writer in St. Paul on an all-male staff, and we had no idea how we were going to handle this, and where it was going to lead.
It took a while, and the big checks and overwhelming attention still are claimed by males, but we had another example of where Title IX could lead on Friday night with this twinbill at the Barn and the Pav.
Maybe you have to be as old and as long in sports journalism as me to be impressed by the popularity of these side-by-side attractions. Or maybe you have to be someone who was as fully involved in that first decade of women’s sports as was Annie Adamczak, then of Moose Lake High School, now Annie Adamczak-Glavan of Club 43 volleyball in Hopkins.
“I was 11 or so when Moose Lake started girls athletics,’’ she said. “We were a family of 12 kids and my two older sisters, Trish and Mona, didn’t have a chance to play high school athletics.
“I played slow-pitch softball in the summer and that was it as far as organized sports. Then came high school sports. We had a collection of very good athletes. In volleyball, we had three girls that could get above the net. That was two more than most teams.’’
Adamzcak and her teammates won the state volleyball and fast-pitch softball titles in Annie’s junior year of 1980-81. They swept the volleyball, basketball and softball titles in 1981-82. They lost a total of two games (basketball) in the three sports in 1980-81, and went 79-0 in 1981-82.
Adamczak stood 6-feet, if she kept on her sneakers. She wound up with a volleyball scholarship to Nebraska.
“I now coach some great hitters and see some great hitters who are 6 feet, and the college coaches say, ‘I don’t think she’s tall enough to play for us,’’ she said. “Alexis Hart is 6-feet tall and is very good for the Gophers, but she also jumps 32 inches, and that’s unreal.
“Women’s volleyball has the advantage of not being always compared to a men’s game. People are able to watch the matches and take these women for the fantastic athletes that they are without any question.’’
And women’s basketball? “What really stands out to me compared to an earlier time is the strength with the ball,’’ she said. “Players dribble into traffic and aren’t giving up the ball.
“Everybody loves Lindsay Whalen, and it’s great that people came out to see her team in its first game. To have 16-17,000 people in that old place for basketball and volleyball on the same night …
“As I said, for someone with two older sisters who never had a chance to play sports, it’s tremendous.’’
Whalen’s first game was advertised as a sellout, although there was a large expanse of empty seats on the west end that university promoters were hoping would be claimed by students. The bribe for attendance included boxes and boxes of free pizza, but the students as a whole on a Friday night must have had liquids on their minds rather than Domino’s.
I was approaching fans as they entered the Barn and asking, “When was the last time you were in attendance for a Gopher women’s basketball game?’’
(Note: Thankfully, no one reversed that question toward me.)
I ran into Jim Lehman, a fine golfer and brother of another fine golfer (Tom). He admitted this was his first-ever time watching the Gophers women in Williams. “We’re here for Lindsay,’’ he said.
Tom O’Brien and Arlen Swenson from Fergus Falls area had him beat: They watched the Gophers women in Williams Arena as recently as the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in 2004.
Whalen’s team. And McCarville’s. And the rest of that club of characters that made its underdog run to the Final Four, and accelerated Whalen’s path to being a statewide athletic hero.
A husband-and-wife team of first timers was asked what makes Lindsay special. Husband: “She’s a winner, she’s a competitor and she’s down-to-Earth.’’ Wife: “Who doesn’t like Lindsay?’’
The answer was no one among Friday’s attendees – maybe 11,000 people in actuality. The roar was mighty when Whalen finally was introduced. Pacing in a manner that indicated nervousness, Lindsay waved in low-key appreciation and started coaching.
The Gophers seem a bit lean and undersized. They were up 31-20 at halftime against overmatched New Hampshire, and then pulled away for a 70-47 victory.
Behind the wall, the volleyball team had demolished Indiana in three sets to put its record at 15-0 in the Big Ten. There are five regular-season games left, Saturday at home and then four on the road, and this was the match chosen to celebrate Senior Night – with Kayla Buford, Sophie Beckley and the much-honored setter, Samantha Seliger-Swenson.
Coach Hugh McCutcheon said of his seniors to the crowd, “It’s not a surprise that when they got here, we got good.’’
And he added: “We still have work to do.’’
The Gophers, rated No. 3 in the country, represent the host school for volleyball’s Final Four on Dec. 13 and 15 at Target Center. And there are high hopes that what took place on Friday in the ancient structure on University Ave. was a preliminary celebration of women athletes in these parts.