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June 16, 2012

Lynn Welch: Once Title IX began, she saw fairness, respect

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

TITLE XI VIGNETTES

Julia Pitney
Brush with bias shapes life of advocacy
Read her story

Joyce Wheeler
An early taste of inequities, then a chance to change them
Read her story

Lynn Welch
Once Title IX began, she saw fairness, respect
Read her story

Leigh Saufley
When Saufley was in school, ‘girls’ sports were not big’
Read her story

Dr. Dora Anne Mills
Sports in school became a lifetime passion
Read her story

Gary Fifield
USM was strong advocate of women’s programs, coach says
Read his story

Joanne P. McCallie
“Title IX gave me a sense of belonging”
Read her story

Emily Ellis
“I knew I could play with those guys’’
Read her story

Kristen (Briggs) Carmichael
Star athlete grateful for better scholarship opportunities
Read her story

Janet Judge
Opportunities fuel pride, and a desire to give back
Read her story

Coach William “Tige’’ Curran
As opportunities improved, so did the athletes
Read his story

Sarah (Marshall) Ryan
Reaping the benefits of ‘the people who came before me’
Read her story

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.

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