During the summer of 1977, I arrived at the front door of O’Shaughnessy Hall looking forward to my first interview for a coaching position. I was 27, fresh out of graduate school. As I entered the building I was immediately presented with a choice. I could go left up the stairs to the office where my interview was to take place, or I could go right, which would take me into the locker room area where I was sure there would be a gym. I hesitated at first because while St. Thomas was about to accept its first women to the campus I wasn’t sure if the locker rooms had been adapted. After careful consideration, I went right and discovered that there was a women’s locker room … but no gym.
After the interview, I asked Athletic Director Frank Mach where the gym was located. “Third floor,” he answered matter-of-factly. I proceeded up the stairs, and there it was – a gym on the third floor! I looked up and saw a series of glass ceiling panels letting the sun’s rays flood the gym’s wooden floor. In all my years in California, including a graduate degree in physical education, I had never seen a gym upstairs, much less on a third floor. I felt like I was looking at an artifact from a previous civilization.
I did get the job as the first volleyball coach for the College of St. Thomas. My first task was to purchase volleyball standards and floor plates. I wasn’t sure how thick the floor was or what I might hit as I drilled into those narrow wooden planks. With the floor plates set and the competition standards in place, the St. Thomas volleyball program was initiated. I soon learned that those glass ceiling panels accounted for the gym’s “charm” of freezing temperatures in the winter and suffocating air in the summer. To this day, I still wonder how it was decided that a gym should be placed on the third floor.
As October approached that first year, our volleyball team began to share the gym with Tom Feely’s basketball squad. One day Feely approached me to ask if I would run the game clock for the men’s basketball team. The previous clock operator had trouble keeping his objectivity when the game was close. I was ecstatic at the offer. It felt like I had been asked to join an exclusive, all-male club.
After I took the job, I began to see how easy it was to lose objectivity. The scorer’s table was set back into the stands, so the spectators were literally breathing down my neck the entire game. Students would yell at me if I didn’t put the score up fast enough, or turn the clock off or on at the exact same time as the referee’s whistle.
It’s hard not to take it personally when someone is screaming your name. I learned very quickly to stay focused and alert to the referee’s whistle. I did well strictly out of fear; fear of hearing my name yelled as my father used to yell at the losing boxer during the televised Friday Night Fights. And I eventually earned the respect of the other men at the scorer’s table.
Even now as I write this piece in my office on the second floor of O’Shaughnessy Hall, I can hear someone upstairs in the third-floor gym playing basketball. The memories come back, my palms start to sweat, and I am 27 again trying to make sure my name is not screamed across the chasm of that ancient civilization known as the third-floor gym.
About the author: Jo Ann Andregg is the associate athletic director.