Before all those banners commemorating Atlantic 10 and Patriot League titles and NCAA, WNIT and AIAW Tournament appearances could be hung on the Rose Hill Gymnasium rafters, the Fordham women’s basketball program had to start somewhere. And it was in 1966, just two years after the school began accepting undergraduate women at Rose Hill via Thomas More College, that a group of 14 enterprising young women and two male student coaches first took to the hardwood officially as Fordham Rams.
The beginnings were as sparse as one would imagine, in the pre-Title IX days. Linda Galbraith (TMC ‘69), who can frequently be found watching this year’s Rams across from the team bench (“These young women are inspiring and their skill levels are out of sight,” she says of Coach Stephanie Gaitley’s charges), was one of the 14, and shared some memories of those teams with the Rebounders Club.
“Our team was very close knit,” said Galbraith. “We played hard whether we won or lost for the joy of the game. I still have that joy. There were no scholarships or outstanding players, just a group of young women who loved the game.”
Not only were there no scholarships, but that first year, there weren’t even uniforms.
“The first year we played in shorts and shirts and wore pinnies with numbers on them. The second year I played, the team got uniforms. We had to pay for them,” Galbraith remembered. “They were mostly maroon, with a white cuff and collar. They were also dresses! (Shorts or gym bloomers were underneath). It was not a fun outfit in which to play basketball, but the university required it.”
The original game program from the first Fordham women’s basketball game, vs. Elizabeth Seton on February 16, 1966, noted that the year prior, a “loosely organized” team from Thomas More played five games, winning all five under the tutelage of Dan McAuliffe and John Steinmuller, the two male student coaches (and “great guys and excellent coaches,” per Galbraith), who remained to lead the ‘66 squad. “This season, however,” the program note went on to read, “the girls decided that the women of Fordham should have an organized athletic activity and so they sought recognition as a duly authorized sport affiliated with the University.”
Humble beginnings, for sure, but though they were only permitted use of the main court for games, according to Galbraith, the team practiced where and when they could.
“The team practiced a few nights a week on a side court that was closed off from the main court by a curtain,” added Galbraith. “We were not allowed on the main court unless we were playing a game. Our locker room was on the right side as you entered the gym from the stairs. I don’t think It’s there any longer. I do know it was run down, not very clean, and didn’t have a working shower in the beginning. At some point I remember that we painted it.”
But for Galbraith, the memories from half a century ago are nearly all positive ones.
“We didn’t really know what we didn’t have, we were just grateful that we were able to play,” she continued. “After home games, we would often go to the Web, an old bar on Webster Avenue. We would have lots of laughs and good times. Sometimes we would take road trips to watch the men play. The fact that we still laugh and enjoy each other’s company pretty much sums it up. Fifty years have gone by and it seems like a day, a really amazing day!”
While she hasn’t kept in touch with the original 14, Galbraith still counts members of the teams from the next three years among her friends, including Mary Manifold and Karen Yost (‘71). Over the years, some coaches like Kevin Morris and Christine Wielgus were particularly good about tying in past players, and Galbraith noted that former Associate Athletic Director Marianne Reilly was instrumental in valuing the program’s alumni, a tradition that Coach Gaitley has taken to the next level.
“Coach Gaitley and her staff do an amazing job on and off the court,” noted Galbraith. “I look forward to coming and cheering the team on. My presence is always appreciated—I’m always made to feel a part of the Fordham Family.”