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  • Writer's pictureKate Hinshaw

A Slap in the Face: How Lynn Schweizer Used Her Compassion to Change Athletics at Denison

Twenty-six year old Lynn Schweizer felt as though she was slapped across the face by one of her colleagues as she rushed through the halls of the athletic center. In the fall of 1975, women’s swim and dive practice was from 4-6:00 pm and basketball was from 6-8:00 pm. Consequently, Lynn was required to be in two places at once since she had been tasked with coaching both women’s swim and dive and the women's basketball team.  

At the time, there were only five women's sports teams at Denison, swim and dive, field hockey, tennis, basketball, and volleyball, and ten men’s sports teams. Yet, these teams were extremely understaffed, underfunded, and not taken remotely seriously. It had only been three years since the Supreme Court ruled to pass the Title IX bill in 1972 which states, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." In the realm of athletics this means that men’s and women’s teams should have equal opportunities and resources when competing in their sport. On the contrary, in 1975, women's sports at Denison were about as far from equal as they could get. 

Lynn’s hair was pulled back into a long red ponytail that swooshed behind her as she darted urgently from the pool where she had been coaching swim practice to the gym to where she would now coach women’s basketball. She was dressed in her signature coaching attire: shorts, a Denison t-shirt, sneakers, and her trusty whistle around her neck when a coach for one of the men's teams stopped Lynn mid-run and said “where are you going so fast?” Lynn stopped in her tracks confused by this question as she was so obviously running from one practice to another. She exclaimed, “Well I’m going to basketball practice!” The male coach retorted, “Oh? We have a women’s basketball team?” Smack. It felt as though this coach had wound up and whacked Lynn’s pride right off her freckled, impressionable cheek. She had never felt so insulted in her entire life. Not only was this an insult to Lynn but to her players and women’s athletics as a whole.

Lynn had dedicated every waking hour of her day to the Denison women’s basketball and swim and dive teams in the ‘70s. She started her career in 1973 as a part time head basketball coach and eventually she was named the women’s swim and dive coach in 1974. The funding for women's sports was subpar, meaning much of the infrastructure that the men's teams had was not available to women despite the Title IX bill being passed the year before Lynn started her coaching career. This included access to uniforms, athletic trainers, assistant coaches, support staff, and even laundry services. Lynn took it upon herself to sew her basketball players’ uniforms because in 1975 womens basketball jerseys did not exist. She would even tape players' ankles or tend to injuries during a game while simultaneously coaching and keeping score on the bench.

It's shocking that an institution like Denison that is seemingly progressive in its equity for men’s and women’s sports had such large barriers for women in sports in the ‘70s. In fact, it wasn’t until 1984 when staffing and budgets were finally equalized for men’s and women’s teams. This was because of the formation of the North Coast Athletic Conference. Then, the resources like budgets and staffing became equalized when Denison decided to merge the men’s and women’s athletic programs under one athletic director, Dr. Larry Scheiderer. Throughout this time, Lynn was in the front row cheering on the women and witnessing the trajectory of Title IX play out in the history of Denison sports. 

Lynn grew up in Granville, Ohio, where her parents owned a jewelry store on Broadway. She played many sports growing up, swimming, diving, volleyball, basketball, softball, and even waterskiing. She attended Ohio University where she dove on the women’s division I swim and dive team and graduated in 1971 with a degree in physical education and health. It was Lynn’s dream to teach and coach and after graduating and she fulfilled this dream at a high school in northern Ohio. But in 1973, she and her husband relocated to Granville and Lynn decided to look for a new position. As a Granville native who swam in the Denison pool from the time she was a child to high school, Lynn was a familiar face in the athletic center. She was hired immediately by the “Women’s Sports Coordinator,” Dr. Penny Van Horn, as a part time head coach for the women’s basketball team. 

When Lynn was hired in 1973, there were extreme inequalities between men’s and women’s sports at Denison. The women’s teams all shared one public locker room while the men had multiple. Only half of the women’s teams had a full time coach and there were few, if any, assistant coaches. Men’s teams had a laundry service and the women washed their practice clothes and uniforms in their residence halls. Additionally, there were no athletic trainers for the women's teams and there was no coverage of the games to be published in the local paper like the men’s. 

Luckily, Lynn was like a Swiss Army knife. Since there was minimal funding and resources provided for women’s teams, Lynn took it upon herself to do everything – she did not know any better. There was no staff to help with pregame set up so Lynn would be the one to roll the balls out to the court, turn on the clock, and sweep the floor. During the basketball games, she tallied points for each team on a piece of paper. Lynn even did the post game write-ups and submitted it to the Newark Advocate (only 2 or 3 stories were ever published). Meanwhile, the Men’s Sports Information Director would submit reports of the men's games that were published in the local paper. 

That was just the beginning of Lynn’s efforts... Since there were no athletic trainers for women, she even took a course called “Basic Athletic Training” with Dale Googin, the male athletic trainer who taught Lynn how to properly treat her players’ injuries. She also sewed the basketball uniforms for her players. In the early ‘70s there was no such thing as a women’s basketball jersey and men’s uniforms were too baggy on the women. The only option on the market for women was a short sleeve shirt which impeded arm movement in basketball. So Lynn got crafty and sewed the jerseys herself and added numbers to the front and back. She was “Lynn of all trades” and did not bat an eye when doing these tedious tasks. 

In 1984, Denison became a founding member of the North Coast Athletic Conference. It became the first DIII conference in the NCAA to sponsor both men’s and women’s sports. Prior to this, men competed in the NCAA but women were competing in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). In the fall of 1986, Lynn left coaching and served as the Chair of the Physical Education department. At Denison Lynn was very involved in restructuring the athletic department including developing the Physical Education major. She led the initiative to start offering classes at Denison that fall under health science which is now known as the Health, Exercise, and Sports Studies (HESS) major at Denison. Lynn taught Health, History of Sports, Contemporary Issues in Sports and more. Lynn also took on the role as the Intramural and Club Sports Director while she chaired the PE department. In 1991 Lynn was promoted to the position of the Associate Athletic Director where she served until 2011. In 2011, Lynn was promoted again to Senior Associate Athletic Director. 

Of all the things Lynn is known for as a coach, professor, and administrator, it is her compassion for other people that is most respected. Lynn is described by everyone as a “good person.” She would always be the first to ask about her colleague’s family, knowing the names of each family member. She puts others before herself and works quietly to better the people around her. Lynn’s efforts to provide an equitable experience for female athletes at Denison was not solely because it was the “right thing to do” or because it would further her career but because she genuinely cared for the women she was working with. The relationships she built with players, parents, coaches, and staff are the most important aspect of Lynn’s story. Because of this, she is well loved and well respected.

It is not hard to find people to praise Lynn’s interest and connection with people– especially those she has mentored over the years. Nan Carney-DeBord remembers playing for Lynn in the ‘70s and describes Lynn as a “wonderful mentor.” Lynn coached Nan in the 1976-80 basketball seasons. Lynn has always been a guiding force for Nan whom she relies on when in need of wisdom or advice. Nan has held multiple positions as a coach and administrator since her graduation from Denison. Nevertheless, she always consults with Lynn when in need of advice. Nan has her “Power 5” which are her five people that she always relies on for mentorship. Since college, Lynn has been a constant in Nan’s “Power 5.” This is a testament to Lynn’s personality and ability to be a lifelong mentor. 

Similarly, Ali Teopas Spungen, class of 2008 and former softball player was a mentee of Lynn’s during her time at Denison. Ali said Lynn was always encouraging her to raise her hand for various positions on campus. One in particular helped Ali get a seat at the table with the NCAA. In 2005, Lynn was the advisor of the Denison Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and she encouraged Ali to take on a leadership role as president. This role led to another position on the conference level and eventually the national SAAC. After college, Ali had a stint working in professional sports and has since been with the NCAA for 10 years. Lynn’s belief in Ali and encouragement of holding a leadership position was instrumental to help Ali achieve the role she has today.

Likewise, there are an overwhelming number of nice things people have said about Lynn over the years who did not interact on the same mentor/mentee level. Lynn was the first female boss that Tiffany Ozbun, head softball coach, had when she started at Denison in 2007. In her previous roles Coach Ozbun reported to men but Lynn was a different type of boss. As a woman, the environment Lynn fostered was a welcoming one. Coach Ozbun said, “Lynn never felt like her boss, she was a supportive colleague.”  

Lynn leads quietly but by example. She is not the type of person to cause a scene to get what she wants. She worked diligently and thoughtfully, and used her relationships with people to better athletics at Denison. Lynn's commitment to her players from the earliest days, sewing uniforms and learning to treat injuries, affirms her dedication to others.

Today, Lynn resides in Granville, Ohio, and is often found spectating sporting events at Denison with her husband. She even helps on the deck at swim and dive meets. If you see a 70 year old with cropped curly strawberry hair walking through Mitchell, greeting every person she passes, say hi, it’s Lynn. She is a wonderful person if you ever have the honor of meeting her. 

That slap in the face 49 years ago motivated Lynn to change the trajectory of women’s sports for generations of athletes at Denison. Rather than feeling discouraged in 1975, Lynn used this situation as a push in the right direction, not only because she knew it was right but because of the empathy she felt for her players who she knew deserved the same athletic experience as the men.


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