BY STEPHEN SMITH
The match came before Title IX changed the sports landscape for female athletes, even before Billie Jean King fought her Battle of the Sexes on national TV.
In 1972, a seemingly insignificant tennis match to determine the last spot on the University of Washington men’s team had a lasting effect on two lives.
What seems impossible today was the norm in the early 1970s. College athletics were dominated by male administrators; funding and scholarships were grossly disproportionate between male and female sports; and young women had no path to success in college sports.
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What caused the sea change we see today is largely the passage of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was amended for educational activities in 1972. Title IX requires that any educational institution — like the University of Washington — to provide equal opportunities in any educational activity, regardless of gender. It has been applied consistently to give young women athletes an equivalent, although not precisely equal, opportunity to pursue sports in college on a par with male athletes.
Regulations implementing Title IX were issued in 1975, so young athletes at the UW in 1972 only had an embryonic vision of the future. Two of those athletes were William Carlyon of Bellevue and Patricia Bostrom of West Seattle. Both played tennis for the Huskies, but on entirely different stages.
Bill Carlyon was a sophomore at the UW in early 1972 and the No. 8 player on the UW men’s tennis team. He played regularly at the Seattle Tennis Club with other Huskies teammates who were members. He also played occasionally with a young woman who was on the UW women’s team.
Trish Bostrom began playing tennis at age 7. Although she was good enough to play for the Chief Sealth High School boys tennis team, she was denied the opportunity to compete by the Metro League. She enrolled at Washington in the fall of 1969 and quickly established herself on the UW women’s tennis team.
Her accomplishments in tennis have yet to be duplicated by any other UW women’s tennis player. She was the Pac-8 singles champion in 1972 and was selected to play on the Junior Wightman Cup team. She ranked as high as No. 5 in the world in doubles in 1975 and No. 37 in singles in 1977.
What Bostrom wanted most was the highest level of competition. That was not available to her at the UW. The women’s program was unfunded. While the men had airplane travel, hotels, equipment and a national caliber coach in Bill Quillian, the women traveled by car, slept on the floors of the homes of players’ friends or relatives and had a graduate student “coach” them.
At her father’s urging, Bostrom consulted with Seattle attorney Donald Cohan. He was moved by the inequities.
“I’ll take your case for free,” he told her.
He convened a meeting with UW administrators as a prelude to litigation. The demands were simple.
“I wanted equitable opportunities for women to compete in sports,” Bostrom recalled, “and I wanted the right to try out for the men’s team while that was being implemented.”
The UW was represented at the meeting by its athletic director and other administrators, according to Bostrom. Cohan and Bostrom presented their case but left the meeting without a commitment. Several weeks later Cohan called her with good news.
The UW would provide equitable opportunities for women athletes, and she could try out for the men’s tennis team.
Bostrom remembers being advised by a senior administrator not to take on UW Athletics. “You are making a mistake,” he told her.
Word began to spread, and the Bostrom family began getting abusive phone calls at home.
Carlyon noticed that Bostrom had been invited to practice with the men’s team in the early spring of 1972. Then he was summoned by coach Quillian.
“Bill, you’re up,” Quillian said, explaining that Carlyon was to play Bostrom that day. He also had to talk to the media, which was there to cover the historic match.
“Don’t say anything stupid,” Quillian told him.
Carlyon didn’t have time to get nervous. “I think that if I had been given any advance notice I would have been petrified,” he said.
The historic match was played on the UW varsity courts near Edmundson Pavilion. The slow, all-weather surface allowed better drainage but favored longer rallies and negated aggressive play.
Carlyon knew Bostrom liked to play an aggressive, serve-and-volley strategy.
“She kept coming to the net,” he said. “I just tried to sit back and hit passing shots when she did.”
The two had known each other several years, but there was little talk, just the squeak of tennis shoes and the thud of racquet on ball.
Cohan, Bostrom’s attorney, attended but that her parents were “too nervous” to watch.
“I truly believed that I could win,” she said.
She did not. After the 6-4, 6-2 loss, Bostrom remembers a long, slow walk back to the locker room.
“I was devastated,” she said.
The match was lost, along with a spot on the men’s team, but Bostrom was determined to pursue her tennis career. She began taking extra credits at the UW and graduated early. She quit playing college tennis and set her sights far higher.
Bostrom earned world rankings in singles and doubles in the mid-1970s. She competed at all four major tournaments — Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. She also played for the professional World Team Tennis League.
Carlyon earned several letters before he stopped playing in 1974.
The Next Generation
Carlyon’s family has enjoyed the benefits from Title IX. His younger sister, Caron, played on the UW women’s team from 1974 to 1977. Bill Carlyon’s daughter, Melanie, now 30, played college softball at Azusa-Pacific on an athletic scholarship. Another daughter, Alyson, 28, went to Louisiana State on a diving scholarship. Each of the Carlyon women played multiple sports in high school.
Today’s Washington men’s and women’s varsity tennis programs were only dreams in 1972. Both have a professional coach, scholarships, excellent equipment, air travel and hotel accommodations. Both are regular participants in the NCAA tournament and ranked among the NCAA’s top 50 teams this year.
Bostrom was inducted into Washington Athletics’ Hall of Fame in 1987. At the induction ceremony, Bostrom was approached by Bill Gerberding, then UW’s president.
“Trish, we are so sorry for what you went through at the UW,” Bostrom recalls him saying.
Three years ago, the University attempted to make amends to pre-Title IX women athletes. Letters and blankets, which routinely went to male athletes, were awarded to more than 200 former UW female athletes.
Bostrom has served the UW as a long-time board member and as president of the UW Alumni Association, which included an ex-officio membership on the UW Board of Regents. Now a Seattle attorney who lives on Mercer Island, she has never forgotten her past. She still lectures on Title IX rights and opportunities.
Reflecting on the events that created Title IX rights for women athletes, Bostrom said: “I have to hand it to the University. They said they would work to provide women more opportunities. I think that they were shocked at the great discrepancies in their programs.”
Stephen A. Smith (not the ESPN guy) is a retired Seattle attorney. He played tennis in the late 1960s for Bellevue High School and the University of Washington freshmen team.
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