IOWA CITY — There was food and drink, there was music, and there was Amy Chu. There had to be Amy Chu.
Iowa City West officially dedicated its first on-campus soccer facility Friday afternoon. What was billed as “Picnic at the Pitch” was a grand celebration of Barker Soccer Field and the over half-million dollars in private donations it took to construct.
“This is really amazing,” Chu said.
Chu knows amazing. She’s a 44-year-old graduate of prestigious academic institutions Harvard, Wellesley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a partner in a New Jersey consulting firm called Tiger Advisors LLC.
But she might always best be remembered, at least around here, as Iowa City’s original female soccer player.
“People ask me how I feel about being a trailblazer,” Chu said. “You don’t feel like you’re being a trailblazer back then. You just know what you think is right.”
What was right to Chu in 1984 was being allowed to play a game she loved. There were no girls’ soccer programs in Iowa City and only one in the Corridor region (at Cedar Rapids Washington), so Chu — a junior — decided she wanted to join her brother’s team at West.
But the school district said no, citing a policy that prohibited mixed-sex athletics teams. Chu’s family sued, and a federal court issued an injunction that allowed her to practice and play.
“It was a very interesting time,” said then-West head coach Jerry Zimmermann.
“I just remember that I (didn’t) understand why it had become such a big deal,” Chu said. “I mean, Title IX, to me, was so clear. I’d always played with the same guys, the same team, there really shouldn’t be an issue. It somehow became an issue. Coach Zimmermann was very good about standing behind me and saying ‘Well, if you really feel that way, you should do something about it.’”
That was not the end of the controversy. West played Cedar Rapids Jefferson in a late April game that year, with the Trojans receiving a forfeit victory after Jefferson players walked off the field when Chu came into the game, per orders from the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
Chu eventually took the district to court to prevent future Metro opponents that season from repeating the action.
“The Cedar Rapids part was more traumatizing to me, I think,” Chu said. “From what I remember, they had called some press to make sure they were around to see them walk off the field. They were trying to make a statement. I was just trying to play.”
Which she did just a year later — with female classmates. That’s when West and the Cedar Rapids public schools all created girls’ soccer programs.
Those programs continue to thrive, especially at West. You want proof?
Check out Friday’s “Picnic at the Pitch.”
“I feel really happy. I’ll take credit,” Chu said with a laugh. “I think it would have happened eventually, but I definitely jump started it. There was a prevailing assumption then that girls were just not interested (in soccer). But my senior year, I didn’t even have to lobby. We had at least 30 girls come out and tryout.”“I can’t even imagine not playing. Soccer is such a big deal to me,” said West senior Leah Murray. “(Chu) is a large part of this day. We wouldn’t even have a team without her, let alone the success that we’ve had. I don’t even know how to describe it. I wouldn’t have all these friends that I have without her, basically. All this fun that I have every single day after school is all thanks to her.”