George Mason looks to honor trailblazing alumni who set the foundation for women’s basketball at Mason.
BY JERICO VERA FERNANDEZ, STAFF WRITER
As basketball season tips off, Mason is set for a historic season, commemorating a remarkable milestone: 50 years of women’s basketball. In the winter of 1974, Mason made groundbreaking progress by introducing women’s basketball as one of its first varsity sports. Since this milestone, women’s athletics at Mason have flourished and evolved into an empowering force in college sports today.
The movement was made possible by the passage of Title IX in 1972. This transformative act not only allowed women in athletics the right to equal opportunities, but also banned any type of sex discrimination in college sports. Title IX opened the door for many women who dreamed of a career in sports.
Mason’s head women’s basketball coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis is a huge proponent of women’s sports at Mason and the pathway that Title IX gave to women’s athletics.
“It shows support and dedication to women in sports. We didn’t always have, in this country, the ability to play basketball for scholarships like the men have had for over 100 years. So for us, we are 50 years behind the men in this country,” Blair-Lewis said. “But we are proud of the women who paved the way for us, the pioneers, who played when they didn’t get paid and there weren’t any resources.”
Mason women’s basketball played their first season during the 1973-74 basketball season. Coach Kevin Colgate led the team in their first season. The team lost their first game against Catholic University of America in a low-scoring game, 19-13. But they ended their first season with a win against George Washington University, 32-27. The Patriots finished their first season with a 3-4 record.
After years of being an established program, the women’s team finally became a Division 1 program before the 1982-83 season. Then for the 1985-86 season, Mason joined their first basketball conference, the Colonial Athletic Association. After 28 years in the CAA, Mason made the switch to the Atlantic 10 Conference, where they currently play. Throughout these 50 years, many student-athletes have been able to grow women’s basketball at Mason and build it into what it is today.
“It’s inspiring to be a part of [this program]. Women’s basketball hasn’t been as big as men’s basketball. But seeing that there have been 50 years of women who have gone through a lot so that we can be here. It’s inspiring to be a part of that history,” Junior guard Paula Suárez said.
Throughout these 50 years, women’s basketball has not only improved at Mason, but has become a prominent force nationwide. The 2023 edition of Women’s March Madness drew its highest viewership in the tournament’s history. According to SportsPro Media, the championship game between Louisiana State University and the University of Iowa drew 9.9 million viewers on ABC.
Broadcasters and publications have also started to show more support for women’s basketball, which has increased the visibility of the sport to the public. Now, more than ever, people have avenues to support the basketball players and help the sport grow to new heights.
“It’s looking very positive. People are embracing the fact that basketball is basketball. The women have a lot to give. Women can be very athletic and can shoot very well. People are starting to see that,” CBS Sports journalist Isabel Gonzalez said. “It’s about visibility [in women’s basketball]. It starts with covering it and letting people know what’s going on. If you put the content out there people will watch it.”
The college basketball landscape has evolved since Mason played their first game in 1974. Many alumni student-athletes have paved the way for today’s athletes. To honor the alumni who contributed to the program, Mason will celebrate these players and coaches throughout the season. The university will highlight the major milestones that the players accomplished that contributed to the growth of women’s sports at Mason.
With Mason celebrating the past this season, the future is also something to look forward to. Last season, the Patriots had a winning season under Blair-Lewis for the first time since the 2018-19 season. This season, they are off to their best start in 23 years.
This will be a special season for the players and staff as they will look not only to honor the past but also set the standard for future women’s basketball players at Mason.
“I think it’s going to be so exciting to watch because these girls are passionate. They play with passion… and that’s what you are going to see. Us out there on the floor not caring who gets the credit, but just being passionate about the game we love. They just want to win and win together,” Blair-Lewis said.