By Kevin Southard
Scranton Sports Information Director
September 4, 2013
As The University of Scranton celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, it looks back proudly on the contribution its athletics program has made to the institution's storied history.
Founded as St. Thomas College in 1888 by Most Reverend William G. O'Hara, D.D, the first Bishop of Scranton, it received university status in 1938 and changed its name to The University of Scranton shortly thereafter.
Nearly five years later, the Society of Jesus - the Jesuits - took over the administration of the university, with the time-honored goal of educating students to "go out and set the world on fire."
Athletics has done its part to ignite the flame, winning three national championships - two in men's basketball (1976, 1983) and one in women's basketball (1985) - while advancing to the NCAA tournament 92 times in 12 different sports, including three teams that have made a combined 16 Final Four appearances.
And while there are several dates that stand out - the first athletic event, a football game, is believed to have taken place in 1893; the reinstatement of baseball in 1946; veteran head women's basketball coach Mike Strong becoming the NCAA Division Ill all-time leader in wins in 2011 - no one could possibly predict the impact two events that occurred in 1972 would have on the university.
In the fall of 1972, the administration would implement its decision to admit women as resident students, enrolling 165 females, which at the time made up just 10 percent of the entire student population. That number has grown significantly since, with female students making up 55 percent of the university's total enrollment as of 2012.
Also, in June of that year, then-President Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, a historic piece of legislation that guaranteed that "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."
And while many institutions struggled to meet Title IX mandates, the university embraced the controversial law, adding several sports for women just two years after the institution went coeducational.
Basketball was started in January of 1975, field hockey came on board the following fall semester, tennis and volleyball were added in the spring of 1976, and softball's first season of competition was 1977. Records for cross-country date back to 1982, while soccer and swimming were started in 1983 and 1987, respectively. Lacrosse was the final sport added in 2000, bringing the university's athletic offerings for women to nine, which is the same amount of sports that the university currently offers for men.
Embracing women's athletics has turned out to be a boon for the university, especially during its six-year affiliation with the Landmark Conference.
Twelve of Scranton's 17 Landmark titles to date have been won by its women's teams, with women's soccer leading the way with four, including a current string of three straight under head coach Colleen Murphy, a former Royal soccer standout who learned her craft under the late Joe Bochicchio.
A Scranton native, Bochicchio took over the women's soccer program in its second year of operation and built it into a national power, winning 15 titles in the Royals' previous affiliation with the Middle Atlantic Conference and advancing to the NCAA Division Ill championships 11 times, including quarterfinal appearances in 1987, 2001 and 2003. He passed away on July 24, 2007, a month before the women's soccer team began its preparation for its inaugural season in the Landmark Conference.
His death saddened the tight-knit campus community, yet it served as an inspiration for the team. After an 0-3-1 start, the Royals fought back to finish 9-9-2 and win the Landmark title under then interim coach and current athletics director Toby Lovecchio, a starter on two of Scranton's NCAA Final Four men's soccer teams (1982, 1983) under then head coach and current associate director of athletics Steve Klingman.
Other women's programs have also thrived in the Landmark Conference.
The swimming and diving team has carved out its own niche by winning three conference titles, while tennis and basketball are close behind with two apiece. Under the direction of former Royal running great Bill Burke, the cross-country team won its first-ever conference crown in program history in 2009.
Individual honors have rolled in, too. Chelsea Paskman (soccer), Kathleen Daly (basketball) and Megan Kopecki (basketball) have each earned All-America honors in their respective sports while competing almost exclusively in the Landmark Conference, bringing Scranton's total of All-Americans to 56. And Kelly Zaccheo's (softball) and Emily Farrell's (soccer) recent selections as Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America now gives the university an overall total of 31 Academic All-Americans, further solidifying the university's commitment to developing student-athletes who excel in the classroom and on the playing fields and courts.
And while The University of Scranton continues to educate students who will "go out and set the world on fire," it can take heart in knowing its decision to expand educational and athletic offerings for women have helped fan the flames.