By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator
Before Baylor University had the Lady Bears, we had the Bearettes, and before Kim Mulkey, there was Olga Fallen. When Fallen came to Baylor in September 1956, her specialties were dance and swimming. Yet over the course of her career at Baylor, she taught and coached women—then called the Bearettes—in sports ranging from bowling to tennis, and she served as the head basketball and softball coach from 1974–79.
Most importantly, however, she forged the trail for women’s athletics in the newly created role of Women’s Athletics Coordinator from 1972–79. Scholars interested in women’s athletics, Title IX, and more will find a great resource in the Olga Fallen papers, which are nearly ready for research use here at The Texas Collection.
Fallen served during a dynamically changing period for women’s athletics. When she started at Baylor as an assistant professor of physical education, the women’s athletics program resided solely in the physical education department—Athletics with a capital “A” was for men. Then the equal rights movement came along in the 1970s to advocate for equality between the sexes, and Title IX was enacted to give women’s athletic programs an equal share of the resources needed to function on an equal level with the men’s programs.
Fallen was in the right place at the right time to promote her passion for women’s sports. Women’s athletics at Baylor (and many other universities) historically had less coaching staff, financial resources, facilities, and scholarship opportunities than did the men’s sports program. The work to level the playing field was difficult—many objected that Title IX would cause athletic programs to go broke. Fallen’s reply in a 1975 interview was that “the bill [Title IX] means women should get equal opportunity, not equal funding… If they gave me the same amount of money that they gave the men, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
Fallen definitely was accustomed to working on a slim budget—when Fallen began her responsibilities at Baylor, the women’s athletics department ran on a budget of a mere $750. But by 1979, when Fallen left her position as athletic coordinator and coaching duties, the department operated on a budget of tens of thousands of dollars, according to an April 4, 1979 article in the Baylor Lariat. Additionally, by this time the women had their own practice field and gym, the Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium.
But Fallen wasn’t just an administrator. As a coach, Fallen had a history of success in winning games and in recruiting some top players to the Baylor women’s sports program. For example, in 1973, the first scholarship was given to a female athlete at Baylor University—Suzie Snider Eppers, who came from nearby Robinson High School. Eppers finished her four years at Baylor with an accumulated 3,861 points and was named to Kodak’s All-American team. In doing so, she became the university’s first basketball All-American since 1948. From 1972–1978, Fallen’s win/loss record for the women’s basketball team was an impressive 140-47. Additionally, the team made several trips to the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) basketball nationals during this period.
Forty years after Title IX and after years of striving to achieve equality in women’s sports, the Lady Bears across Baylor Athletics have gone above and beyond, showing the strong foundation Fallen lay for women’s athletics. With the Lady Bears Basketball team’s 40-0 win/loss record and NCAA National Championship, and the Equestrian Hunter Seat team’s NCEA National Championship, 2012 is off to a great start. Olga Fallen would be so proud of today’s Lady Bears!
If you’re interested in a quick history of the Lady Bears basketball team, Texas Monthly wrote one after the 2005 championship. Olga Fallen got things started for women’s basketball at Baylor, but it hasn’t been an easy road. And see the Flickr slideshow below for more photos! (Mouse over the picture and click in the bottom right corner to make the slideshow full-screen.)
Update (May 7, 2012): The finding aid for the Olga Fallen Collection [PDF] is complete! Check it out to get an idea of the kinds of materials you might find in her papers.
Update #2 (May 11, 2012): Dr. Nancy Goodloe, a former Bearette, coach, and athletic trainer in the women’s programs (1965-76), is working on a book about the development of the women’s intercollegiate athletic program at Baylor University. She’s doing research at The Texas Collection but also wants to hear from fellow Bearettes and Lady Bears of the 1970-90s. Nancy has a few questions she’d like Baylor female athletes to address—and she wants to hear your stories and anecdotes too! Your voice will bring this project to life!
Nancy will be in touch with you to get the necessary permission if she wants to use your story in her book. You can answer her questions in the comment section below—we’d love to get a conversation going! If you prefer to share your story privately, you can e-mail Nancy. Thanks for your support of this project!
1. Were you a scholarship athlete at Baylor? When? What kind of financial aid did you receive for being an athlete? What sport did you play?
2. Why did you choose to attend Baylor?
3. What did it mean to you as a student to be a female athlete at Baylor?
4. What does it mean to you now to have left this legacy for current and future female athletes?
Introducing Research Ready | The Texas CollectionMay 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm
[…] and organizational material. The bulk of the collection relates to basketball. (See our blog post for more […]
Becky McClennyJune 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm
I ran track/crosscountry at Baylor from 1975-1980 under Coach Goodloe through Coach Hart and continued until I was 40 years old with Robert Vaughan/Francie Larrieu Smith of the Metroplex Striders in Dallas.
Becky McClennyJune 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm
ran track crosscountry at Baylor from 75-80…red shirted one season…started with Goodloe and ended with Coach Hart…ran until I was 40 competitively with Coach Robert Vaughan in Dallas with Francie Larrieu Smith
Nancy GoodloeJuly 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm
Hi, Becky. Great to hear from you. Send me your email and contact information and I will add you to the list. Good to hear you continued your track experience after Baylor.
I appreciate your entry. Any reflections or memories that you might want to share in the book I am writing? Did you have a track scholarship when you went to Baylor?
Talk to you again. Nancy Goodloe
Debbie Bradley MannJune 20, 2012 at 11:46 am
I am Debbie Bradley Mann, daughter of Coach Bill Bradley of Robinson and Gatesville Girl’s Basketball and Track Programs. My father was Suzie Snider Epper’s coach in high school. There is an interesting story to go along with Suzie’s recruitment to Baylor that Coach Dutch Schroeder told me several years ago. Suzie wanted to go to Baylor, but there was no money and my Dad went to Baylor and fought for her scholarship. He and someone (I assume Dutch since he is a friend and knew the story) negotiated a deal with the athletic dept. and they took a half-football scholarship from the men’s program and gave it to Suzie. But for some reason, there was error in the bookkeeping or in the transfer of information between departments and Suzie I think was accidentally given a full scholarship. Of course it was completely merited as they soon realized and she recieved the full scholarship from then on. My Dad was a champion of women’s athletics in Texas as was M.T. Rice from Midway. In 1970 they convinced the UIL to adopt girls track into its program. Sometimes we forget the men who were great advocates for women’s sports and many times they were victims as well. Dad, a letterman in tennis and huge Baylor womens supporter was once approached to coach at Baylor, but as he was a high school administrator as well, they could not pay him what his current salary was. Many of us came to Baylor purely for the passion for Baylor and our particular sport. Mine was basketball and track but I opted to run track only as it had less time constaints and I really needed to work to help pay for school. So many times I wish I had played basketball, but I am thankful that Title IX finally made it possible for future female athletes to follow their dreams. We owe much to the pioneers who championed that cause and I hope we all, both scholarship and non-scholarship ahtletes give back to womens’ athletic programs when we can.
Nancy GoodloeJuly 5, 2012 at 12:44 pm
Hi, Debbie. Thanks for your post! When did you attend Baylor?
Syx DesignJuly 6, 2012 at 7:58 am
My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web address and thought I should check things out.
I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to exploring your
web page repeatedly.
Genc Arifi - Student Travel AgentOctober 23, 2012 at 4:58 am
My dream was to be part of baylor, In fact with this great history who wouldn’t dream to be part of this. While reading the story i was really asking my self, why I’ve chosen to go abroad?, I’m thinking seriously to come back there, I’m really missing Texas.
Anyway, the blog post was great and i wish to see more posts like this.
AndyMay 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm
When did the name change from Bearettes to Lady Bears?
Amanda NormanMay 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm
Great question! Searching in the digitized Baylor Lariats, it looks like the last year they were called the “Bearettes” was 1980, and you start to see “Lady Bears” used in around 1981. I’m not sure what precipitated the switch, but in sports section articles, you do see other teams referred to as the Lady (Mascot), so it seems like Baylor just caught on to that wagon. 1981 was the year that Baylor women’s athletics made the switch from Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to the NCAA, so maybe that has something to do with the change.
Karen Dickerman HelmsMarch 9, 2016 at 12:33 pm
I graduated from Baylor in 1969. I was an education major and I was absolutely terrified of the required PE courses. I ended up in a class with Olga Fallen as the instructor. The entire course consisted of jumping rope. The “final” in her class was a series (that seemed impossible and endless) of jump rope moves. I was probably the worst student she had ever experienced! I was so afraid that she would fail me. At the end of my very sad routine, she said: “Well, you never gave up and you really tried. I am going to pass you.” I wanted to hug her neck. I didn’t because I was a little afraid to do so. I have never forgotten her!
I stumbled across this information about her. Loved reading it!
Amanda NormanMarch 9, 2016 at 12:41 pm
What a great story! Glad you survived all of those jump rope tricks–that sounds like a serious cardio workout! Thank you for sharing that memory of Fallen.