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Spirit of Continual Legacy: Pioneers Honor Women at Davidson

Pioneer group
The pioneers on their annual beach trip.

Bonnie Revelle '77 was in the right place at the right time when Davidson decided to field a women's basketball team.

"I don't think many of us felt like we were doing anything pioneering at the time," she said.

Along with classmates and fellow basketball players Becca Stimson, Nancy Matheny Kitchin and Laurie Dunn, Revelle helped raise more than $100,000 for The Pioneer Lounge, part of the women's basketball space in the Harry L. Vance Athletic Center, the enhancement to Davidson's Baker Sports Complex.

While the players on Davidson's first women's basketball team started the conversation, the group quickly decided they needed to expand this opportunity to many of the first women at Davidson. The 2013 beach gathering of the women of the class of 1977 provided the backdrop for discussions about the project. Typically around 30 women take part in the annual trip.

"Initially, we talked about this project as including basketball players only," said Stimson. "As we re-thought what we would be trying to accomplish with a small pool of donors, we realized this was more about pioneer women and less about basketball."

"The person who came up with the name for The Pioneer Lounge wasn't even a basketball player," said Revelle. "It was very moving to know many of our friends wanted to support the project just because they supported us."

Revelle reflects on her time at Davidson as full of fun and friendship. She came close to missing out on the camaraderie she found through the team, however.

"I arrived at Davidson totally unprepared academically, and when I was approached about helping to start the women's basketball team, I was scared to take on another thing," she said. "My first year, I turned down the opportunity, and it was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Because when I started playing sophomore year, it kept me grounded and gave me the sanity I needed to make it through my hard classes. I didn't know it at the time, but the exercise gave me stress relief, and it was the one time in each day when I knew I was on equal footing with everyone else."

Revelle says it was a magical time-the players had such passion on and off the court.

"It's that pioneering spirit we all want to honor through this space," she said. "At that time, we were committed to making Davidson a good place for us to be, and that's exactly what this new space will do for today's students."

Early in the fundraising process, Laurie Dunn '77 and Ann Clark '80 joined as lead donors, and Nancy Matheny Kitchin '77 soon followed.

"All of us who were there during the early days of Davidson's becoming co-ed would say it was a special time, I think" said Dunn. "I grew up watching Davidson sports, and to be a part of a Davidson sports team was just really fun, and the college was very supportive. Instead of deciding what activities and rules the women on campus needed, we were allowed the chance to create opportunities."

Lifelong Joy

The players on that first team see this project as a way of supporting where the college is headed in terms of athletics and beyond. The $100,000 fundraising goal was a big stretch for the volunteers, who do not consider themselves fundraisers by nature. To date, more than 35 alumnae, coaches, fans and spouses have contributed to the lounge.

"The more involved with this project I became, the more I wanted it to succeed," said Kitchin. "So many women from the Class of 1977 were involved in the inaugural women's team as players, managers, cheerleaders and supporters. Whatever the participation in, or knowledge of, that first basketball team, it was a lifesaver for many of us-a time to escape the academic rigor and the stress of those first few months at a previously all-male college. It gave us back our confidence and offered a chance to be a part of something special. That sense of belonging has been pervasive for our class, especially the women. We have spent 40-plus years celebrating our good fortune of belonging to this group. The women's basketball lounge, appropriately, is named for Davidson Pioneers: past, present and future."

As the women think about what The Pioneer Lounge will mean for students and student athletes who follow in their footsteps, the hope is a simple one.

"The further we get away from our time at Davidson, the more unique we feel that experience was to us," said Stimson. "I hope future students will take away that even though college is a day-to-day activity for them, there are people out there who experienced something similar and it has become a lifelong joy. Davidson isn't just a phase you pass through and don't look back beyond what it was there for, which is education. It's much bigger than that."

"I hope people will say the women who started sports at Davidson cared enough that they are still committed to helping students now, and as the current students go forth and leave Davidson, they'll want to help support those behind them, too," said Revelle.

That spirit of continual legacy is what makes this space special to the donors and to many other women pioneers at Davidson. And it is their desire that the women of Davidson today carry that legacy forward.