UA women's sports soar thanks to Roby

2011-06-12T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T13:49:26Z UA women's sports soar thanks to RobyBy Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 12, 2011 12:00 am  • 

In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams.

Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. In August, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.

Sometime between receiving her master's degree at Smith College and her doctorate from USC, Mary Roby decided she wanted to be a flight attendant.

At 26, she had six years until the mandatory retirement age.

One airline turned her down because of a small space between her teeth.

Another said no after she missed the 5-foot-3-inch height requirement by an inch.

"They all had to look alike," she said.

Finally, she took a test for a third airline, but didn't make the cut.

"I thought, 'Jeez, I have a master's degree,' " she said. "I knew I had some brights.

"They said, 'You scored too high.' "

In that environment, needing a job, she took one at Tucson High School before continuing a career in athletic administration at Colorado, Cal and USC and, eventually, with the Arizona Wildcats.

From 1959 until retiring in 1989, Roby transformed UA women's athletics.

Aided by Title IX, the former UA women's athletic director brought women's sports from an $8,000-per-year intramural department to one with a six-figure budget and a Pac-10 affiliation.

The 1948 UA graduate found Frank Busch and Mike Candrea, two of the Wildcats' greatest coaches.

Now 84 and undergoing chemotherapy, Roby lives at home with her husband, Fred. The Star talked to Roby about her contributions to the UA:

On growing up in Miami, the mining town 120 miles from Tucson:

"We were diverse before diversity was popular. We were really diverse. Italian kids, Syrian kids, Lebanese kids, Irish kids, German kids, Mexican kids. We were all Americans."

On the rivalry:

"Fred wants me to take this off my résumé, but I taught at ASU for three years (in my 20s). I loved ASU, not to the exclusion of the U of A, but it was a great three years."

On coming to the UA:

"I got the job here in 1959 and met Fred. That was the end of it (laughs). He was an exercise physiologist. Eventually, we taught a class together and published a journal together. At first, I thought he was a snob. I don't know why. He's the sweetest guy in the world.

"I was 42 when I got married. It'll be 42 years this August that we're married. So half of my life."

On the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, founded in 1971:

"The AIAW was the only thing we had. AIAW started national championships for women. If you eliminated it, where are the women? Back in intramurals. It was the best thing to ever happen to us. ... It gave us everything the NCAA continued."

On watching sports today:

"Everything's exciting. I follow the swimmers and the gymnasts and the softball team, and all the sports. I think it's really great.

"I hate the terrible, terrible dependence on money, and I still think this is mainly football and basketball. It goes over into everything, though.

"Kids have changed. The women certainly have. When we started this, I had female athletes coming into my office and thanking me for their scholarships. They were so grateful for anything. I said, 'Thank your coach.'

"I think the whole culture of the country is this way - it's more of, 'You owe me,' instead of, 'What can I do?' "

On giving coaches a sheet with UA historical finishes on them:

"When I left, I gave everyone a copy of this. I said I found that people forget who came before them. I said, 'One of these days, you're going to leave the university. Your records will be broken. Don't scoff at people who came before you, and don't think you're the first coach that ever came here.' "

On what the world would be like without women's sports today:

"I think sports, maybe they were a beacon, kind of like when women got to vote. Did it change our country? Certainly it did. Women in sports, did it change our country? Well, how many people are watching the softball series on TV that haven't before?"

 

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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