116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — In the fall of 1974, Karen “Z” Zamora was walking by an open field by the Iowa Memorial Union, watching college girls play field hockey, when the coach surprised her by calling out in a Scottish brogue, “You want to go?”
Zamora did gave it a go. Her first practice was a Wednesday and three days later, she played with the University of Iowa field hockey team against the University of Northern Iowa.
“It really kind of saved my life,” Zamora, 67, of Tiffin, said of the years playing field hockey for Christine Grant, who coached before becoming director of women’s athletics at Iowa for 27 years. “I wasn’t on the right road in life. She gave me a scholarship that fall. It kept me in school.”
Nearly 50 years later, Grant similarly inspired Emily Deuell, 23, of Poquoson, Va., when Grant met with the 2021-2022 UI Field Hockey team from hospice at the Bird House in Iowa City.
“She was talking about all the change we could affect. How strong she felt we were,” Deuell said.
As bagpipes played at the end of Sunday’s celebration of life at the UI’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Grant, who died Dec. 31 at age 85, Deuell thought about how Grant and her peers in women’s athletics laid the foundation for Deuell and her teammates.
“It was clear the last five years playing field hockey wouldn’t have been possible without all the hard work she did over her 80 years,” Deuell said.
More than 300 people gathered at the arena to celebrate Grant’s life and legacy. The crowd included former players, coaches she hired over a quarter-century and athletic administrators from around the country.
Speakers — all women — talked about how far women’s sports had come. Early UI women’s teams had to share uniforms with other sports and played in makeshift spaces.
“Our home field was that lawn in front of the student union,” said Judith Davidson, Iowa field hockey coach from 1978 to 1988. “The week before Homecoming, the students held a bash-the-car event there and we had to move our practice site.”
Then Grant allowed the field hockey team to practice in Kinnick Stadium or the indoor practice facility, which had artificial turf, commonly used in field hockey, Davidson said. The university also allocated money for scholarships.
“No longer will girls and women be content for sitting on the sidelines, either of the playing field or society,” Davidson said. “We will never go back.”
Lark Birdsong, Iowa women’s basketball coach from 1974 to 1979, talked about Grant’s childhood in Bo’ness, Scotland, where she played sports, including field hockey, with her brothers and neighborhood boys.
Grant moved to Canada in 1961, where she helped develop the first national women’s field hockey team and the Canadian Field Hockey Association. She came to the UI in 1968 to continue her education, receiving her doctoral degree in sports administration in 1974.
Fighting for gender equity, Grant used her skills as an orator, a researcher and as a diplomat.
Often wearing an impeccable pantsuit, she spoke to mostly men — athletics administrators, members of Congress — about the need for Title IX, groundbreaking federal legislation in 1972 that made it illegal to discriminate based on gender in education.
“She was absolutely an inspiration to all of us who worked on that stuff in the 1970s,” said Sharon Taylor, 77, of Sedona, Ariz.
Like Grant, Taylor coached field hockey and then became an athletics administrator at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. She worked with Grant and others to start the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in the early 1970s.
“We all kind of believed we could do it and, son of a gun, we did,” Taylor said.
Grant’s later years also included many joys, such as her dog, Pepper, boating on Lake Macbride and learning to play the piano. She traveled with close friends, Bonnie Slatton and Peg Burke, and continued to speak to UI athletes and attend some UI events.
When Birdsong asked Grant if she wanted to be part of a UI video in 2021, Grant declined.
Her decision came a year after the UI decided to cut four sports, citing financial strain during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Feburary 2021, the UI reinstated women’s swimming and diving after a lawsuit was filed by players, but the men’s sports that were cut were not reinstated.
“Christine was also disappointed in the lack of equality with glaring examples still occurring 50 years later” Birdsong said. “Equality does not subtract, it adds.”
Sunday’s event ended with the UI Athletics Department playing the trailer of a documentary about Grant called “Unshakable Belief,” that will be released in August. Barbara Burke, deputy director of UI Athletics, also said the UI will renovate space in the Athletics Hall of Fame to focus on Title IX.
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