Long before the faces of female athletes donned the cover of elite magazines or America's favorite cereal boxes, Paula Hodgdon was carving a distinguished career in athletics the way most women in sports did so long ago: quietly and without a lot of fanfare.
A former Head Coach of thirty years, Professor of Physical Education and Interim Director of Athletics at USM, Hodgdon dedicated herself to advancing the lives of young women through sports, at a time when women weren't always considered athletes. She has seen and experienced the growth of women's athletics from intramural to intercollegiate; from state to regional conferences; from the Division III Northeast Championship, to bringing her winning field hockey team to the NCAA Final Four Championship, all while serving as the pioneer for women's sports on the USM campus.
"I was attending Springfield College, working on my DPE in physical education. Dick Costello told me that when I finished, he thought there would be a position for me. He was the visionary. He understood the value of sports for all students; I was just at the right place at the right time. USM went from intramural to intercollegiate in the late 1960's. When Title IX came along in 1972, we didn't think much about it; we were already doing it."
Designed to promote civil rights in education, Title IX had its greatest impact on sports. For women, it made the difference between watching sports and playing them. USM, according to Hodgdon, was ahead of the Title IX curve. In 1967 she launched the women's intercollegiate sports program with the field hockey team, "Women were ready. There was a lot of interest. We started practicing on a section of land behind Hill Gym, the girls learned some skills and we scheduled four games with other colleges." Volleyball, basketball and softball would soon follow. "We had a small budget, minimal really, there was no equality then but we had what we needed. Nobody thought about it; women had been used to not having anything for so long."
With each success, Hodgdon raised awareness and the visibility of the women's athletics program at USM. Honors and awards soon followed; NCAA Division III Northeast Champions, ECAC Division III New England Champions, Maine Sports Legend and "Coach of the Year." Hodgdon became one of the nation's most respected coaches with 10 post season appearances, a Division III Final Four, and under her tenure, eleven student athletes were named regional All Americans and five received national All American Awards.
In 1994, the Hodgdon Leadership Award was established at USM and is given annually to athletes who exemplify the qualities of Hodgdon, "a woman who displays loyalty, dedication and commitment to the team." In 1998, the USM Field Hockey field, on the USM Gorham campus, was also named in her honor.
Dedication and commitment to USM still drive her today. Hodgdon continues to give back to the university that she says, gave so much to her. She is an active member of the Husky Hall of Fame and Gender Equity committees, and as a member of the USM Benefactor Society, Hodgdon has assured her long term commitment to the University through a charitable gift in her estate plans.
"I feel very loyal to USM. It's been very good to me. USM enabled me to do some things that I've been passionate about. The administrators (all the way from Athletic Director to President) allowed me to pursue my goals for the University with support and no interference. My goals to develop new sports, skills classes and programs for the women were embraced by the students and athletes; they wanted to learn and compete. I felt an integral part of USM, that I was appreciated for my contributions."
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