Lynn Welch was a sophomore at South Portland High School in 1972, the year Title IX legislation went into effect. That spring she won the first of three consecutive state singles tennis titles.
Welch went on to play tennis and basketball at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Since 1991, she has been a professional tennis official and has umpired 12 U.S. Open finals.
As a young female athlete in the ’70s, Welch said she never felt discriminated against, a factor she credits to Pete Debevoise, a chemistry teacher and boys’ tennis coach at South Portland High who also ran a recreational tennis program.
“He set up these challenge systems for just the girls and just the boys,” Welch said, “but he’d also have the top girls play the top boys.”
And if anyone – boy or girl – could beat Debevoise, he would treat them to a steak dinner. Welch managed to do so, along with Lee Ramsdell and Doug Gagne.
“He took the three of us to Valle’s Steakhouse,” Welch said. “I remember that being such a big deal.”
All of those challenge matches paid off for Welch when Debevoise took his rec players to the Portland Country Club, where the girls wore white shirts with white skirts and a ribbon in their ponytails and took lessons from the resident pro.
“And here we came with basketball shorts and basketball socks and we looked rumpled,” Welch said. “We didn’t have the tennis clothes and the outfits, but we would beat them, I think, purely on that competitive drive he instilled.”
For college, Welch applied to Colby, the University of Maine and, after a friend of her father suggested it during a chance meeting at the post office, Rollins College, which had scholarship money available.
Welch was accepted on an academic scholarship, but after her first year of success in tennis and basketball, Rollins awarded her an athletic scholarship. No longer would she have to work nine hours a week in the library.
“They had a big sports budget,” Welch said of the Division II institution. “We were outfitted pretty well.”
As for inequity between men’s and women’s sports, Welch saw little. “I didn’t feel like we got booted off the basketball court early or the tennis courts early so the guys could come on,” she said. “I felt like there was equal respect there, even in those early days (of Title IX).”
Now 56, Welch lives in Hilton Head, S.C., but is currently in England to umpire at Eastbourne and Wimbledon, her 20th Grand Slam event.