When women integrated the men’s soccer team
Next year Cornell will celebrate its 30th year of women’s soccer. However, women participated in varsity soccer before the women’s team was established.
In 1971 the men’s soccer team was coached by Peg Pink, acting chair of the Women’s Physical Education Department, and the integration of the team could be dated from that time. The first woman to join the men’s soccer team was Barbara Phifer ’77, who walked onto the team in 1974, recalls teammate James Shell ’77.
In the fall of 1975 Coach Jim Davis issued a call: “Soccer players wanted: Women are welcome.” Eight women took him up on the invitation, and four of them made it through the preseason workouts: Phifer, Cindy Bushey ’79, Anne Read Tracey ’79, and Karen Forsman ’77.
Bushey, a first-year student from Webster Groves, Illinois, came to practice after reading Davis’ notice. “When I went down there, I didn’t realize it was a men’s team. I thought it was going to be an intramural team,” she said.
“They said if you can keep up, you can be on the team. The coach set a good tone for this to happen. They were very encouraging and supportive.” – Cindy Bushey ’79
Bushey was a confident, fast runner who had played soccer in elementary school. She stayed for two seasons.
The men had won the conference championship the year prior and included a number of international as well as U.S. players with extensive experience and considerable talent. “Because of this,” she said, “they were open to breaking ground and new horizons by including women. There was always a positive sense to everything.”
Tracey, then a first-year student from Tulsa, Oklahoma, had been captain of her high school’s all-girl soccer team, and told the Des Moines Register she decided to play college soccer because, “The girls’ teams I have played on weren’t fast enough for me—this team presents a much greater challenge.”
First women to play
Bushey and Tracey were the first women to appear in a varsity game when they took the field against Coe on Sept. 25, 1976. Cornell was ahead 8-0 when Ram Coach Mark Cuthbert sent the two women into the game.
According to teammate James Shell, the referee, in a British accent, told Bushey she couldn’t enter the game because she was a woman and “soccer is a man’s sport.” Cuthbert protested, the crowd booed, the players encouraged the crowd, and the ref stood his ground. Bushey left the field, but Tracey stayed in the game discreetly. The Rams played one person short. After a few minutes, someone pointed out that Tracey still in the game, having effectively broken the gender barrier. Bushey reentered the game, the ref said nothing, and history had been written.
Cornell beat Coe 8-0 and finished the season 6-0-2, the last Ram soccer team to go undefeated through a season. It would be 13 years before a varsity women’s team was established.