Title IX wasn’t even a thing when Salvatorian Sister Carol Thresher received the 1959 “Sportswoman of the Year” Award at Milwaukee’s Divine Savior High School. Now, 45 years after the educational amendment opened up sports opportunities for women and girls, Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) students and Sportswomen Alumnae celebrate the role athletics has played in DSHA history. Sr. Carol was interviewed for an all-school assembly recently.
What are you up to now?
At present, I am responsible for ongoing formation, first of all among the sisters of our USA province and secondarily in the USA Salvatorian Family. This includes retreats, workshops and overall programming. I am also charged with researching and writing the history of our USA province from 1985 onward.
What sports did you play at Divine Savior High School?
I was involved in all intramural sports, which at Divine Savior in the 1950s included basketball, volleyball, field hockey, to name a few, but my primary sport was basketball. I was on the varsity basketball team my sophomore through senior years (1956 – 1959) under the direction of Coach Ruth Weidenbeck. I earned my DS letter, now in the Archives Display Case in the Commons at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.
What did athletics mean to you then and what does it mean to you now?
I came to Divine Savior from a small Catholic grade school on Milwaukee’s north side (St. Nicholas Parish, now closed). There were only two of us from the school so at first I felt at sea in a midst of girls from west side parishes who already knew one another. My love of and ability in sports gave me a point of entry and a growing sense of belonging. Because homeroom and class teams were organized in those days, I came to know many of my freshman classmates in no time. Friendships that formed through these activities grew over the years and many have continued to this day.
What lessons did you learn?
As I think about it, I realize that for me sports participation was a point of entry as well as a point of departure. By that I mean it gave me access to relationships that would mature into friendships. However, it would also free me to be myself and to see other opportunities that the DS school community would gift me with over my four years. Perhaps it can be summed up as learning that, “Doing what you know you can do well with self-confidence will open doors you never before imagined.” And for me, the doors that opened were diverse and life changing. The magic behind those doors continues to reveal itself today in my Salvatorian Religious vocation, as well as my love of history, the world, the development of women, and commitment to making the world a better place for everyone. Did all of that start on the basketball court? Perhaps not entirely, but my participation in sports at DS contributed significantly to my self-confidence and the firmness of steps I needed to take as I moved forward in life.
What was your fondest memory or biggest thrill of playing sports at DS?
You have to remember that this was pre-Title IX time. No WIAA, no tournaments, no trophies. Divine Savior and the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Catholic Youth Organization Volleyball League were my only options for competitive sports. There were NO women’s teams, leagues or collegiate possibilities to speak of. The few teams that did exist (I’ve since learned) were unknown to us as high school students. In other words, I soon realized there was no future for me in sports outside of becoming a physical education teacher, which didn’t look to me like my dream job. My fondest memories of my varsity basketball days are associated with teamwork I learned from playing with girls from the different class levels and our interaction with Coach Wiedenbeck.
What is your favorite anecdote from your athletic days in high school?
I recall heading across town to St. Mary’s Academy on a Saturday morning to play a game. Not many high schools had women’s basketball at that time, so there weren’t many other teams we could play. The game was played in an empty gym with no one but ourselves to cheer each other on. Believe me, it was for pure love of the game that we played!
Remember that the rules for girls basketball were also very restrictive, the assumption being, I presume, that “boys rules” were too rough for us. Each team had 6 players. Three forwards were restricted to their home basket side of the court, and 3 guards were restricted to the opponent’s side of the court. Neither group could venture across the center line. Also, each girl could only dribble twice before passing the ball to a teammate. These restrictions were a far cry from the hoops I had shot in our driveway over the years. And only two dribbles? Too much! It was a great move when these “special” rules for girls were abolished. Not too soon in my opinion.