by nathan oster
Walk onto any college campus in America today and you’ll see championship banners hanging on gymnasium walls, pictures filling the pages of yearbooks and cheering fans packing the stands, all in celebration of the achievements of female student-athletes.
It hasn’t always been this way.
Sharon (Kogel) Schafer knows better than anyone.
The current Basin resident, who moved to Greybull in 2001 when she and her husband Matt bought the Antler Motel, was a five-sport athlete during her college days at South Dakota State University in Brookings.
Hardly anyone noticed.
“It was just a different time,” said Sharon. “We weren’t recognized in those days.”
What she did in the sport of field hockey, however, must have made an impression.
Sharon received word in October that she’d been selected one of the top 50 female student-athletes in SDSU history. With it came an invitation to attend a 50 Years of Women’s Athletics luncheon Nov. 13 on the SDSU campus.
“First thing I told them was, ‘This is hunting season.’ They said, ‘Well come if you can.’”
Not one to toot her own horn, Sharon said it was her husband who pushed for the trip.
“He said, ‘This is important, something special, and we need to go,” she said.
In hindsight, she’s glad she did, as the event gave her an opportunity to reunite with former teammates, friends and players that she got to know when she attended SDSU between 1969 and 1973.
A native of Huron, S.D., Sharon said her primary sport in high school was track and field, where she excelled in the hurdles.
“That’s all we could participate in,” she said. “There weren’t women’s sports back then, and that just made me want to work harder. We were as good as the boys in high school, but we weren’t recognized for it.”
She said her favorite sport, pre-SDSU, was softball and that she played on some pretty good adult teams. She wasn’t recruited to play sports at SDSU, though she did receive a scholarship to study physical education, which became her major.
“I just loved sports,” she said. “Of course, being a PE major, I took classes on all the sports. I learned about them that way. As a woman, you weren’t recruited; whoever wanted to play just went out.”
The first sport she tried was field hockey. Before she was done, she’d also participated in basketball, volleyball, track and softball (in her final two years when the program was getting off the ground at SDSU.” Her teams enjoyed successful seasons. In fact, one of her softball teams played at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Sharon was the only field hockey athlete on the list of the top 50 female athletes at SDSU. To this day, she holds the school record for goals scored. And since the sport is no longer played at SDSU, that record is likely to stand the test of time.
Sharon graduated from SDSU in 1973. Not long after that, she spent six years in the Army.
She and Matt married in 1999 and immediately set a goal of moving west.
“We wanted to do something different,” she said. “At first, we wanted to own a campground, but then we figured that a campground is usually a seasonal thing and that we wouldn’t be able to support ourselves year-round.”
So they turned their focus to motels — and on June 1, 2001, they finalized a deal to buy the Antler Motel. “We wanted to live out here, either in Montana or Wyoming, so we had to buy our own job in order to do it,” laughed Matt. In time they added the K-Bar Motel. Three years ago, they bought and moved to the site of what is now Frontier Mini Storage, north of Basin off U.S. Highway 16/20.
As she reflects on her days at SDSU, Sharon smiles. “They were good years.”
At the banquet, she noticed that roughly three quarters of the athletes on the top 50 list attended SDSU between 2000 and 20015. “Probably only 10 to 15 of them were in my age group,” she said.
“There was a lady there who gave a speech and, referring to us, she said she wasn’t going to refer to us as old people. She said she was going to call us the pioneers of women’s sports because we laid the groundwork for her and so many others. And when you think about it … we did.”
Title IX changed the landscape. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibited sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving any type of federal financial aid. Today, the number of women playing college-level sports is more than five times as high as it was in 1972.
“It opened the door for us, that’s for sure,” said Sharon. “I went back and looked at my yearbooks and there wasn’t a picture of a women’s team in any of them. We had some good teams, too. They just weren’t recognized. We didn’t even get letters in those days.”
That changed at the November luncheon, when the college finally presented one to her.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Matt. “I can remember those days … how so many fought against the idea of taking money out of the men’s sports to fund sports for women. It was a highly contested thing. So it was nice to see them finally get the recognition they deserved.”