Voelz steps down after 14 years spent changing perceptions

David La Vaque

It’s not over for Chris Voelz. The University- by virtue of merging the men’s and women’s athletics departments – might have quit on her, but Voelz knows her fight continues.

Never mind the obvious signs of women’s athletics development ñ bigger budget, more teams, new facilities – during Voelz’s 14-year tenure, the kind of progress she covets can’t be dedicated with a ribbon cutting.

By virtue of a 1972 legislation called Title IX, Voelz knows Universities must comply with gender equity legally.

“It’s relative, it’s treating your sons and daughters the same,” Voelz said.

But getting school administrators, some male coaches and the public at large to accept the government mandate willingly is another battle ñ one Voelz fought with vigor.

While her platform will no longer be affixed with a maroon block ‘M’ and accompanying ‘s’, Voelz will continue her campaign for the general acceptance of women’s athletics.

“What I care about are the covert discriminations,” Voelz said. “It’s an environment where there are many outspoken coaches of men’s sports who don’t get it.”

While critical of the decision to merge the departments ñ Minnesota was one of five schools nationally with separate departments ñ Voelz is hopeful a new, energetic and fair athletics director will emerge.

She hopes this individual recognizes the hard-fought struggle for legitimacy by women’s athletics and continues to foster a collection of student-athletes who’ve fulfilled their dual role.

Most importantly, Voelz hopes the new athletics director includes women’s athletics because of want rather than need.

She cited the Gophers Coaches Caravan that toured greater Minnesota this spring to create interest in men’s athletics. The group included wrestling coach J Robinson, football coach Glen Mason and men’s basketball coach Dan Monson.

“Hopefully, the new athletics director will think, ‘If we take Monson, we have to take (women’s basketball coach) Pam Borton. Or will they just take four men’s coaches because it’s easy and it’s the way they’ve been thinking?”

Challenging the male-driven sports world to change its thinking subjected Voelz ñ called difficult, micro-managing and abrasive – to backlash numerous times.

Jolted by President Mark Yudof’s decision to merge departments, Voelz called her final semester bittersweet, though the Gophers women’s basketball, gymnastics and hockey teams competed in their respective NCAA tournaments and meets.

In her new role as special consultant to the president, Voelz will offer transitional advice and maintain donor relations.

But she’ll never be far removed from her passion for women’s athletics. Though Title IX ensured Voelz would be protected, she nevertheless pushed the boundaries with the goal to change perceptions.

“I had to be value driven, courageous, relentless and work hard against the grain so I had a chance to make a difference,” Voelz said. “When a change agent has made it for 14 years they overextended the actuary.”