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Notre Dame celebrates 45th anniversary of being co-ed

This year marks the 45th anniversary of when the University of Notre Dame turned to co-education for the first time.

The courage of 200 women, paved the way for thousands of others.

Two of those pioneers, continue to lead the way for women at the university, including legendary Notre Dame Women’s Head Basketball Coach, Muffet McGraw.

“I remember our first sellout. I walked in the arena and it was a snowstorm which is so unusual in january in south bend. And one of the ushers said ‘ did you hear it’s a sellout. My heart was just palpitating. I was just so excited. The emotion and the building was so loud,” said McGraw.

A dream realized for a pioneer in women’s basketball.

When McGraw took over the program in 1987, she never imagined those sellouts were possible.

“I think it’s so important to appreciate the pioneers that got us here,” said McGraw.

Fellow pioneers like Jill Donnelly.

45 years ago Donnelly was one of only 200 women to enroll at the university, a wish she had even told her father about long ago.

“I remember telling him, I don’t know how old I was probably eight years old ‘ I’m going to go to Notre Dame someday’ and he said ‘ look around here there aren’t’ any women that attend this school you’re not going to be going to Notre Dame.’ so I can thank Father Hesburg for allowing my dream to come true,” said Donnelly.

An all-boys school, Notre Dame allowed women in the undergrad program for the first time in 1972.

“Living in South Bend it was all over the news. There were actually advertisements. Is Notre Dame really a place for women,” said Donnelly.

Daniel Reagan was Donnelly’s classmate in the fall of 1972.

“My classmates coming in were thrilled that it was going to be co-education,” said Reagan.

But not everyone he knew associated with the university was as accepting.

“My father is a 1948 graduate and his cadre of Notre Dame friends of whether Notre Dame should make that change,” said Reagan.

“I believe overall it was a tough decision for Father Hesburg to make to be honest. Being a catholic school and having the traditions Notre Dame had as an all-male institution,” said Reagan.

Donnelly said there was a time of adjustment for everyone during that historic freshman year.

“There were many classes where I was the only female in the classroom and I would be coming in the door and there was conversation going on that was probably a little off color and I would hear someone say ‘Jill’ is in the classroom. And they would change. And I think that’s what Father Hesburg had envisioned. That men, would act different socially and women would change that.”

Change is what it brought and inclusion not just in the classroom but on the athletic playing field.

John Heisler joined the athletics staff in 1978 as Assistant Sports Information director and has been an integral part of the growth of women’s sports at the university.

“We slowly but surely added sports. We added staff. We added scholarships. That was probably the biggest thing. Over the course of 20 years we added to the point of where our full 26 sports had the full complement of scholarships. It’s a signal, not only to your coaches and athletes that you are committed but everyone else that you are serious about these sports. We are not fielding a team to say that we are doing this. Certainly when McGraw would tell you when she took over in the late 80’s the program was nowhere near  the success she’s seen in the past 15-20 years,” said Heisler.

“It took us a while to get there. I wanted to be in the top 25 and I wanted to be a perennial NCAA tournament team, I don’t think our goals were as lofty as winning the national championship when I first started but going to the final four in 1997 was the one that got us started.”

Dreams realized for two pioneers who led the way for future generations at the University of Notre Dame.

“We could look at a lot of those women as role models for our future daughters who were hopefully going to have an opportunity to come here and have even greater advantages because of the women from the class of 72,” said Reagan

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