University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Winning Strokes

In the '70s, Terry Ganley's champion women's swim team had to sell T-shirts to pay for meets.

Photo by Eric Miller

Terry Ganley, a senior associate coach of women’s and men’s swimming at the U of M and the U’s first All-American female athlete, is a bit of a throwback. In a world where modern champion swimmers grow as tall and square-shouldered as building cranes, Ganley is more slight than buff, and no taller than your average Y lane swimmer.

She’s unassuming in manner and speech, too. Walking through the swim team offices, deep within the state-of-the-art Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on the Minneapolis campus, wearing maroon and gold sweats, she speaks of her many years with the Gopher program as though unaware she is delivering a history of women’s sports at the U.

“I started swimming as a kid in North Minneapolis,” Ganley (B.S. ’79) says. “Went to Ascension Church, went to Ascension School, and swam with the Ascension Swim Club in the [Amateur Athletic Union] program. There was no girls’ swimming team for high school but I was a pretty good AAU swimmer and wanted to continue swimming when I entered the U.” That was in fall 1973. The country was in the middle of an oil crisis and embroiled in the Watergate scandal. “I was still living at home, so every day I took the 5 bus from North Minneapolis downtown to Block E and transferred to the 16 bus to go to Norris Hall on campus.”

The women’s team practiced in a pool at the Norris “ladies gymnasium,” which was older and smaller than the pool used by the men’s team in Cooke Hall. But they had a talented new coach, Jean Freeman, herself a North Minneapolis kid and a fresh graduate of the U. Freeman had moved directly from the lanes to the gutters, and in fact had coached Ganley at Ascension. Now, she was guiding the Gopher women for the princely sum of $50 a year.

This was before a 1972 amendment to the federal Civil Rights Act, known as Title IX, forced sports programs across the country, including at the U, to invest in women’s sports. In the ’70s, competing as a gifted female athlete was strictly a DIY endeavor. “There were no lockers available to us at Norris,” says Ganley. “So, everyone carried what they needed in their backpacks: towels, shampoo, swimsuit, makeup. There were about 30 women, swimmers and divers, on the team. We all just made do.”

By the time Ganley was a junior, she and her teammates were privileged to get one night a week swimming at the Cooke men’s pool. “We got use of the lanes on Thursday nights beginning at about 6:30, when the guys had finished their practice,” she says.

There were no scholarships for female swimmers, so Ganley had to work part-time while carrying a full load of study at the U and swimming endless training laps. No money existed for team travel, which meant that though Gopher women’s teams competed at Big Ten Conference Championships, they couldn’t afford meets against other conference competitors. Women’s teams would schedule events with local colleges instead.

Ganley in 1974: She was the U's first female All-American athlete.
Photo courtesy University Archives

Her freshman year, Ganley took first place in the 50-yard backstroke (this was pre-meter swimming) at the Big Ten championships, and scored high enough in other events to account for 46 of Minnesota’s total 199 points.

She qualified for the national championships of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). At the time, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) had no interest in women’s sports—whether basketball, swimming, or track—so female athletes competed within the AIAW. Schools like the U were hardly more interested in women’s sports than the NCAA was. The entire budget for all of women’s athletics at the U in 1973-’74 was around $35,000. Men, meanwhile, had about $2.2 million to play with.

Not surprisingly, when it came time to send Ganley to the AIAW finals at Penn State in 1974, there was no funding for the trip. To raise money, Ganley and Freeman sold T-shirts in the lobby of Cooke Hall. They raised $550, which they figured was plenty.

Asked whether the disparities between the men’s and women’s swimming programs ever bothered her, Ganley provides a sporting answer. “[Freeman] and I always respected the men’s program,” she says. “We didn’t want to put anyone down. We just wanted to lift our own team up.” She still wants to do that, taking any opportunity to laud the talents—and dedication and hard work—of today’s student athletes.

Ganley and Freeman set out for Happy Valley. Unfortunately, no one told them that attendees of the AIAW championship swim meet would be competing for hotel rooms with rabid fans of Pennsylvania high school wrestling, who were holding their state tourney at the same time. Star swimmer and coach had to find accommodations out in the wilds of central Pennsylvania.

Competing against the top swimmers in the country, some of whom had swum in the Munich Olympics a year and a half earlier, Ganley finished 12th in the backstroke and in the top 20 in three other events. She became, in the process, the first woman to earn All-American honors in any sport in the history of Gopher athletics. 

Two years earlier, Title IX had passed, stipulating that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” For all its legalistic clauses, no single measure has done more to revolutionize the participation of female athletes in sports.

It began affecting budgets at the U during the summer of 1974. A complaint filed by the Twin Cities Student Assembly with the federal Office for Civil Rights helped prompt an immediate boost in funds for the women’s athletic department, from a projected $50,000 to $115,000. It was far from the 42 percent of the total athletic budget the assembly sought for women’s sports, but it was an improvement. For the first time, seven of the nine women’s sports programs at the U would have full-time coaches.

Even before the Title IX changes took effect, men’s athletics administrators chewed their nails about its coming effects. In 1973, Athletic Director Paul Giel worried that it would be “men’s athletics that pay the bills.” U Vice President Stanley Wenberg echoed that sentiment, saying “it would not be fair to saddle our present athletic department with financial responsibility for any part of the cost of women’s intercollegiate athletics.” But the very fact of their concerns made it feel like the wheels were turning in the direction of women’s sports.

In late 1975, a separate women’s intercollegiate athletics department was established at the U, and the first women’s athletic director, Vivian Barfield, was named a year later. The U substantially boosted its funding request of the state legislature for women’s sports and for the first time, a small sum was set aside for need-based scholarships for female athletes.

For Ganley, who still had three years of swimming eligibility remaining after her first national championships, the hard work continued. So did the accolades. She would earn All-American honors three more times at Minnesota and would continue to relish her association with her Gopher teammates, even as they continued to train and swim under spartan circumstances.

Ganley remembers a trip to a Big Ten tournament in Indiana. “The whole team wound up staying together in sleeping bags in a teammate’s parents’ basement in Kokomo,” she says. Training tables were held beneath whatever Golden Arches they passed along the way and inside an old van with a weak heater, which required the women to sit on each other’s feet to stay warm. Ganley is not the sort of coach who brings up the hard knocks of the old days in order to put her swimmers in their places. But when the temptation does arise, she acknowledges that “I’ve probably been thinking of that trip.”

Ganley came from a family of eight, including her parents. She was the youngest of the bunch and three of her brothers served tours in Vietnam. Harboring grudges is not in her nature. “For me, I just wanted to compete,” she says. “I just wanted to swim. I know the bigger thinkers like Jean [Freeman] were more aware of the disparities of our circumstances. She saw male swimmers at my skill level getting recruited, getting scholarship offers from around the country, and she understood the basic unfairness of it all.”

Ganley was hired as Freeman’s assistant in 1977. It was the beginning of a 40-year stint as a swim coach for the Gophers. During that time, she witnessed the growth and evolution of women’s swimming, and the whole of women’s athletics at the U. Budgets increased and so did salaries for women’s coaches, boosted in part by Rajender v. University of Minnesota, a lawsuit settled in 1980 that enjoined the U from engaging in employment discrimination based on gender.

Cooke Hall became available to the women’s team on a more equitable basis and then, in 1990, the Freeman Aquatic Center was built. Meanwhile, the Gopher swim team, under the guidance of Freeman and Ganley, kept improving. In 1999, it won its first Big Ten Conference Championship. It won again the following year. 

In 2004, Freeman retired from coaching and Ganley, after 27 years as an assistant, was named co-head coach of the Gopher women’s swim team, along with Kelly Kremer, who had been coaching the Gopher men. More Big Ten championships followed and in 2006, Ganley and Kremer were named co-Big Ten Coaches of the Year. The men’s and women’s teams have since combined to form a single entity with Kremer as head coach and Ganley, who has chosen to focus on the development side of the program, designated senior associate head coach for both men and women.

Ganley helped take women’s swimming to the top of the Big Ten Conference, first as a swimmer and then as a coach. Today, men and women swimmers at the U are distinguished mostly by the cuts of their suits.

Tim Brady is the author of five books, including His Father’s Son: The Life of General Ted Roosevelt, Jr. He lives in St. Paul.

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