Celebrating Title IX: Judith Davidson

Oct. 4, 2012

Editor’s Note: The UI Athletics Department will join the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX with 40 short stories about the people and events that helped shape the intercollegiate athletics offerings at the University of Iowa.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Like many of her peers, Judith Davidson was responsible for building an intercollegiate athletics program from the ground up when she was hired as head coach of the University of Iowa field hockey program in 1978.

Davidson didn’t just build the foundation for what is today arguably the most successful program in the history of women’s athletics at the UI. She built the foundation and the first, second, and third floors — and a massive front porch — during her 10 years on campus.

So, how do you measure the success of a construction project in intercollegiate athletics?

Wins? How about 192 and a remarkable record of 52-4-1 in seven seasons of competition against Big Ten Conference opponents.

Championships? How about seven Big Ten championships and one NCAA title?

National championship appearances? How about a perfect 10? Ten seasons, 10 appearances in the postseason party.

“You win the first one and it can be a fluke,” Davidson said of her team’s success against Big Ten opponents in an interview with The Daily Iowan in the summer of 1984.

“You win the first one and it can be a fluke. Win the second one and you know it’s not a fluke. By the third one, you’re established; you know it’s for real.”
Judith Davidson

“Win the second one and you know it’s not a fluke. By the third one, you’re established; you know it’s for real.”

Need more evidence of how real? How about a “coaching tree” that is as big and solid as a 100-year-old oak, or a list of 39 student-athletes who were coached to All-America status and another list that includes 48 All-Big Ten honorees?

Or, how about a program that has placed eight members in the UI’s National Varsity Club Hall of Fame, or a program that has generated 10 Olympians and 27 NCAA All-Tournament selections?

And, as is the expectation at the UI, Davidson used her success as head coach to help shape the landscape in her sport nationally by serving as president of the United States Field Hockey Association for three years.

“It’s a great game, beautiful to watch,” Davidson, a three-time pick as the Big Ten Conference coach of the year, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette in an interview during the 1983 season, and shortly after she had registered victory No. 100 at Iowa.

In that same interview, Davidson expressed concern about the sport of field hockey being “slowly strangled by soccer” and the long-term future of the sport in the Midwest and, particularly in the Big Ten.

“The game probably will always be maintained in the east, (but) we can’t be an island,” she suggested.

Fortunately, 29 years later, the sport of soccer is flourishing, and not at the expense of field hockey: Thanks to the invitation of Penn State University into the Big Ten in the 1990s — and the leadership of Davidson at the UI, the number of league schools offering the sport of field hockey to talented student-athletes has grown from six during the “Davidson Era” at Iowa to seven currently.