By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
The year was 1972. Randolph-Macon College had become a coeducational institution just a year before, and now it was time to begin a women’s athletics program.
Enter Rachel Anderson, arriving from just up the road in Richmond, with an enthusiasm to see the Yellow Jackets expand athletic opportunity to the young women now beginning to populate the campus. She was charged with beginning the physical education program, chaired the department, and did much more.
While leading the charge for women’s sports in the new age of Title IX legislation passed, ironically, in 1972, Anderson would lead the Yellow Jackets’ women’s tennis program for 21 seasons, aquatics for 25 seasons, and navigate Randolph-Macon through the transition when, in 1982, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) decided to take women’s sports seriously, rivaling the established AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
Today, on campus, women’s sports are as ingrained in the culture as men’s sports. This fall, while there will be plenty of fans tailgating and attending football games, field hockey, soccer, volleyball and other women’s teams will be hard at work, also looking to win, or repeat, as Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) champions.
The foundation for all of this opportunity was thanks to the vision of Anderson, who passed away July 24th, just a week after being named to the 2017 class of the Randolph-Macon Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I would classify (Anderson) as my significant mentor. She was a very kind, gracious woman, a strong Christian woman. She wasn’t very aggressive, and didn’t think she was going to get very far if she was aggressive,” explained Randolph-Macon women’s basketball coach Carroll LaHaye, who first met Anderson in 1980 through mutual friends.
But don’t mistake a measured approach to growing what was, a generation ago, a new program not without some controversy, with weakness.
“She remained persistent with things,” LaHaye recalled. “Her task, from coach Hugh Stephens, was to build the women’s athletic program. So she started with sports like basketball, field hockey and lacrosse where there was a presence on campus, a nucleus.”
Brick by brick, the foundation was laid. Anderson remembered in an interview done with LaHaye back in 2008 a conversation at the Shaffer Street Dining Hall at VCU in early 1972, the subject was women being admitted at was what referred to as “Randy Mac”.
“On the way home that afternoon, I decided if they’re going to have women at Randolph-Macon full time, they need a full-time person,” Anderson stated.
She met Dean Howard Davis, who confirmed the college would be hiring someone to begin things and sent her to see Stephens, by then the longtime Athletic Director.
“He only asked me a couple of questions, he said, would you coach tennis and would you sponsor the cheerleaders? I said of course, I’m coaching tennis now and I don’t suspect sponsoring the cheerleaders will be that difficult,” Anderson recalled. “He said go over and tell Dean Davis you’re fine.”
With a fresh air of simplicity began a relationship between Anderson and Randolph-Macon College that would last 45 years, its genesis coinciding with the passage of Title IX, Congressional legislation to guarantee equal opportunities in education for women, including in athletics. Anderson and each sport the Yellow Jackets offered grew, year by year. LaHaye entered the scene in 1980 and did whatever she could to be a part. Two years later, she became women’s head basketball coach. She’s been there ever since.
“She took a lot of pride in how the women’s athletics program took off,” LaHaye remembered. “She liked to attribute that to finding quality people, and she figured if she got those people in place, they would know what to do to build their program. She wasn’t about to micromanage.”
LaHaye noted Anderson’s approach to allow coaches and directors to do their jobs and empowered them was an approach found throughout campus from many leaders and has helped Randolph-Macon blossom into the institution it is today.
As the 1990’s wore on, Anderson began to give up some job titles. Her retirement was official in 2000, though she worked part time for the school for two more years. Never a day went by where she wasn’t an ardent supporter of the Yellow Jackets. Thus, the feeling of pride and congratulations was unanimous when, in July, Anderson was named as a new inductee into the Randolph-Macon Athletics Hall of Fame.
LaHaye stayed in regular communication with Anderson until the end. She’s disappointed that Anderson won’t be able to bask in the deserving public glow come October 14th when the Hall of Fame Class of 2017 is officially inducted.
But, in one way, this final thank you to a Yellow Jacket pioneer seems fitting. Anderson was never one to seek out public adulation. She wanted to make an impact, do her job and do it well, and expected those working for her to do the same thing.
Her legacy goes far beyond one coach, but extends to every time a Randolph-Macon women’s athletic team holds a practice, plays a game, or its seniors walk across the stage to receive a degree. Whether in the pre-dawn silence in Crenshaw Gymnasium, the late night bus trip back from an ODAC game, or finishing that final hour of study at McGraw-Page, the work of Randolph-Macon’s women students, and student-athletes, will always carry a piece of Rachel Anderson.