Marya Welch Initiative launched for women's athletics

Starr Hurley, Pam Gill-Fisher, Acey Hannam and Karen Gee at the Marya Welch Initiative for Women's Athletics luncheon. (Liz Martin, UC Davis Athletics Development)
Aug. 29, 2017

DAVIS, Calif. - The UC Davis intercollegiate athletics department has established the Marya Welch Initiative, named for the former physical education instructor, coach and Dean of Women who founded women's sports on the campus 25 years before the passage of Title IX. The new campaign saw its official launch during the Marya Welch Initiative for Women's Athletics luncheon last Friday at The Colleges at La Rue.

The new program seeks to raise financial support for the university's 14 varsity women's sports, with an emphasis on the La Rue Field softball complex during its initial year.

"I was so pleased to see such a great turnout at the event last Friday," said Liz Martin, director of development for the Aggie athletics department. "It was great to have so many different generations of fans and student-athletes to honor Marya Welch's legacy and launch us into the modern era of women's athletics at UC Davis.

"I'm looking forward to continuing the positive momentum at our social on October 17th before the women's volleyball game and can't wait to see us break ground on the improvements to the softball stadium."

The Marya Welch Initiative continues a rich commitment to -- and history of -- women's athletics at UC Davis. Thanks to the leadership of Dr. Welch, her protege and former senior associate Pam Gill-Fisher, plus a wealth of coaches and administrators, ICA has stood as an exemplar for Title IX compliance throughout the decades since the passage of the Education Amendments of 1972. UC Davis was a founding member of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, later claiming four national championships under the AIAW auspices in tennis and gymnastics.

When the NCAA began sponsoring women's championships in 1981, the Aggies continued to enjoy success on that stage, eventually winning eight Division II titles plus another under the auspices of USA Gymnastics. UC Davis women's sports also accounted for the majority of the points toward eight NACDA Directors' Cups. Three student-athletes -- middle distance runner Jamila Demby (1999), sprinter Tanisha Silas (2002) and lacrosse player Kelly Albin (2004) -- captured NCAA Woman of the Year honors. UC Davis was twice named as the top Div. II school for female athletes by the magazine Sports Illustrated For Women.

In addition to its success in women's athletics, ICA has remained steadfast in new opportunities for women athletes during the post-Title IX period. What began as a seven-sport offering in 1973 soon quickly saw the addition of gymnastics in the mid-1970s. The success of Sue Williams' "running club" gave way to a new cross country team later that decade. Evolving regional and national trends in women's sports opened the door for women's soccer in the 1980s, while the UC Davis Student Activities and Services Initiative helped result in women's lacrosse, water polo and rowing achieving varsity status in the 1990s. The athletics department continued to keep pace during its Division I era, with the launch of women's golf (2005) and the revival of field hockey (2009).

The growth and success of women's sports at UC Davis stood as a culminating achievement for Dr. Welch, both during and after her career from 1947 to 1987. At a time when the student enrollment was more than 90 percent male, she was just the ninth female faculty member at the university and the first for the physical education department. In addition to her teaching duties, Dr. Welch established clubs in equestrian, rifle and archery; then soon after the Women's Athletic Association, all of which provided the first extramural opportunities for the campus's growing female population.

Dr. Welch, who died in 2012, has two university landmarks that bear her name. The tennis complex off Howard Way became the Marya Welch Tennis Center in 2005. Furthermore, a central courtyard within The Colleges at La Rue apartment complex is named the Marya Welch Court. Dr. Welch conducted her first archery classes -- among the first sport offerings for women at UC Davis -- on that very location at The Colleges.

To donate to the Marya Welch Initiative for Women's Athletics, please visit

Located in a vibrant college town ideally positioned between San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley, UC Davis was rated as the nation's No. 6 public university by the Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, the university topped Forbes magazine's list of "The 13 Most Important STEM Colleges for Women" in 2016.