Peanut butter, jelly and Bob Dylan

 Recently, freelance writer Jean Young Kilby sat down with friends, longtime faculty members and pioneers Pat Bruce and Lee Morrison who have helped change the outlook and opportunities for women in sports. Here’s what Jean learned about two of JMU’s faculty emeriti and the impact of their careers.

Peanut butter, jelly and Bob Dylan

Lee Morrison and Pat Bruce changed the world for women in athletics.

Lee and Pat, Pat and Lee. The names roll off the tongue as smoothly as those old friends “peanut butter and jelly,” not because the two retired JMU professors of physical education are anything alike, but for the simple fact that they’ve been cronies for so long. Cronies who share a common goal.

Lee Morrison has staying power, and rather like peanut butter on an empty stomach, substance.  In a manner of speaking, she sticks to your ribs. Bob Dylan should have written about her in the early 1960s when he penned “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” for it was during that epoch that Lee dipped her toes into the swirling times of war protest and Civil Rights and began to discern that, in Dylan’s words, the old road was rapidly aging, and that the time had come for women to join in competitive sports at the college level.

Lee grew up among Savannah high society, a self-described loner who preferred horseback riding to tea parties.“I was a horse nut as a kid,” she says. “Riding was my outlet.” It wasn’t until her college years that Lee began to wonder why girls were not allowed to compete in most sports. Her clarion call came loud and clear when, as a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, she was excited at the opportunity to hear a world-renowned coach give a lecture, only to be, again in Dylan’s words, “drenched to the bone” when she found out that women were not allowed to attend the lecture.“At that point,” she says, “I wouldn’t even fight it.”

Soon afterwards, Madison College’s sports roster drew her attention to Virginia, and in 1954 she began her tenure coaching field hockey, her favorite sport. Almost immediately Lee activated herself politically, eventually serving as president of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, an organization that fought to expand national championships in 18 different sports. Not surprisingly, though, Lee was never all about politics. She was about people, a fact reflected in a story she tells of two hockey players, one outstanding, the other mediocre. She recalls taking the strong player out of a game against Bridgewater College so that the other player, whose parents had come to watch her, could get in the game. This action angered the ousted play, who told Coach Morrison, “I just want you to know I never intend to put my feet on this campus again.” This to a woman who spent her weekends coaching – for free. Peanut Butter.

Pat Bruce joined the faculty at Madison College in 1961. Pat, girlish and fun-loving, a peacemaker by nature, goes down rather sweetly. Growing up in a privileged Bostonian home, Pat organized kick-the-can games among the neighborhood children before heading off to elite Wheaton College. Doors tended to open themselves to Pat, so it was somewhat of a shock to her when she was denied membership in a country club because of her single status. Pat was not an open rebel, though, and this experience primed her in a different way from Lee’s for the extraordinary contribution she was to make to women’s sports: She concentrated mostly on her teaching. Pat was a teacher’s teacher, mentoring student teachers of physical education and teaching courses such as sports psychology and swimming. She remembers her teaching days vividly.

“Bad physical habits are hard to change,” she says. “A skill gets in your brain and stays there. When you’re playing basketball, for example, you don’t think about HOW to shoot. If you start thinking, you fall apart.” She taught student teachers how to coach. “If a player makes a mistake, the coach should want that player to think about what she did right, not what she did wrong. This is called ‘mental practice.’ Imagery is important in sports.”

Though Pat immersed herself in campus politics, serving as Speaker of the Faculty Senate for two years, she still comes across as more of a spoon-full-of-sugar person.  She tells the story of a stellar student, president of the senior class at Madison College, who, though athletic on the basketball court, couldn’t quite pass her swimming test, a requirement for graduation. While the other seniors were outdoors practicing for commencement, Pat was in the pool with this student, giving desperate last-minute swimming instructions. When the student was finally able to swim unaided, Pat rushed out and told the registrar that the student was ready to graduate. “How did you do it?” the registrar asked. “I let the water out of the pool,” Pat joked. It’s a story often told, and people still laugh at it. Jelly.

On a recent trip to the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis, I stood gazing at the permanent display titled, “History of Women in Intercollegiate Athletics.” It was only a one-wall display, beginning with Vassar College’s 1866 women’s baseball team in their long flappy skirts, tacked up amidst multi-media kiosks highlighting men’s and women’s competitive sports. The air was thick with the history and grandeur of what women have accomplished in college sports. Such a modest display for such a grand theme, yet I wasn’t surprised when the words “James Madison University” popped out at me with a great deal of prominence. My only surprise was that the display wasn’t served up with peanut butter and jelly.

We will be adding Lee and Pat to our Be the Change wall soon.  Visit there regularly to keep up with some of the people of James Madison University who are changing the world.
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About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

4 Responses to Peanut butter, jelly and Bob Dylan

  1. Beth Alphin says:

    Loved the story. The Drs. Morroson and Bruce were ahead of their time in many ways. Thanks to their influence, many of us went on to careers in education and athletics.

    Like

    • grahammb says:

      We agree. They are lovely ladies and good friends. Their impact goes far beyond the students they taught at JMU to the students their students taught. Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  2. Tom Holden says:

    PB & J … totally fitting. Nourishes the soul as well as the body. Keeps you going. Makes you smile. Thanks!

    Like

  3. Christie Kilby Robinson says:

    Great to read about the contributions these great women have made on behalf of all women… and a delightful presentation. Thank you!

    Like

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