Once upon a time, tucked in the hills of the Hudson River Valley about 90 miles above New York City, there was a women's college called Vassar. It was an exclusive little school, well known for turning rich, bright young girls into rich, bright young ladies ready to seek fame, fortune and husbands in the outside world. The college at Poughkeepsie remained that way for well over 100 years, until, in 1969, it decided to admit male students. Now, two years later, campus life has changed radically with the influx of more than 600 men, almost one-third the total enrollment. Vassar even has a football team nicknamed the Big Pink, complete with a bearded coach who stalks the sidelines in his shirtsleeves and shouts, "Look alive out there, you guys. We came here to win." Can this be for real?
Well, sort of. The Big Pink—school colors are a feminine pink and gray—is really a touch-football team, but it does play with considerable gusto, as it did the other day in winning its first road game of the season, 33-24 over Sarah Lawrence, another women's bastille gone coed.
"We're No. 1," Big Pink fans shouted as the game ended, although a Sarah Lawrence girl sniffed, "I don't see how you can be No. 1 when you've only played one game."
Luckily, Butch Hirsch, a stocky economics major from Glencoe, Ill. who is student coach of the Vassar team and has a full Vince Lombardi act to inspire his players, did not hear her. Butch doesn't take such things lightly. In fact, Butch is one of the few Vassar students who takes sport—any sport—very seriously, and all fall he had wanted his Noyes House team to be the one to represent Vassar against mighty Sarah Lawrence. He even penciled Lombardi dictums ("There's only one place and that's first place" and "The harder you fight, the harder it gets to surrender") on the ceiling above his bed.
Butch, the self-appointed coach and manager, and his team from Noyes had played intramural football—the six-man-touch variety—against 11 other dorm teams since September. Noyes already had built its reputation last year as the jock dorm on campus, winning titles in intramural football, softball, soccer and basketball. The current Noyes boys beat Raymond House 15-0 before the Sarah Lawrence game, thus finishing the interdorm competition with a 4-0 record and the title. "They're very gung-ho in Noyes," says John Humphrey, a geography lecturer at Vassar. "I think a couple of the guys take it all too seriously."
Janet Griffith, a freshman from New York, agrees. "It's very uncool to be in sports up here. If a guy plays football or wears madras shorts around the dorm, forget it."
Perhaps no one on campus is more aware of the overall low-key sports feeling than Ray Streit, the organizer of the college's team sports, and the only man among six women in the school's phys-ed department. Streit, a lacrosse player at Syracuse for four years, came to Vassar in 1969 when it went coed and needed a man on the P.E. staff. "When I first arrived I came on like a ton of bricks," he says. "The students told me to go sit down." Streit now organizes the touch-football program in the fall, but leaves the boys "pretty much on their own" after that. He coaches the three other team sports—lacrosse, soccer and basketball—and teaches both men and women golf, turf skiing and tennis.
Butch Hirsch amazes Streit, and so does the rousing interest in football he and the Noyes team create. After hearing that Noyes drew a crowd of more than 100 at its final interdorm game, Streit said, "I can't get 20 people out to look at a soccer game." Last year Streit officiated all the football games himself, but this season he hired six student referees to remove that burden from his hectic schedule. "The guys play for real, too," says Bill Tisano, one of the student refs who broke a couple of toes playing for his own dorm a few weeks ago. "They are always arguing with the refs and hollering every other play." For their trouble, Tisano and the other officials each earn $1.65 an hour, the only expense incurred by Vassar for its football program, slightly less than that of, say, Ohio State. That bit of money comes out of the phys-ed budget, supervised by Betty Richey, chairman of the department and a teacher at Vassar since 1937. "I love football but it is stupid to get into it too much," says Miss Richey. "The men's schools have made so many errors, and we just don't intend to do the same."
Miss Richey has been disappointed in the small number of men students who enroll in phys ed, especially since Vassar stopped requiring P.E. for its students and substituted academic credits last year for some of the phys-ed courses taken. "I think women are much more interested in being in classes than men," she says. "Men always like to compete."
Hirsch probably is the most competitive man on Vassar's campus. After a few beers at Pizza Town, a college hangout, he admitted he really believes "all this stuff about winning—in everything, not just football." He rambled on, wishing Vassar could play football in some kind of small conference ("for guys like us who couldn't play at a big-time school"), for uniforms ("or at least matching shirts") and finally for a bus that would take the team and any fans who wanted to journey to Bronxville and Sarah Lawrence on Sunday. His enthusiasm was catching. Bill Kamer Jr., Noyes House's vice-president in charge of publicity, talked about the letter he had written to Howard Co-sell, hoping the sportscaster could come to Sarah Lawrence to see the game. "Besides, his daughter goes there anyhow," Kamer said. Jeff Wishik, a bio-chem major who plays safety for Noyes, recalled a press release he had sent to the Vassar newspaper, The Misc. The notice was supposed to say "if Noyes wins," and instead said "when." "Humph," he said. "If."