As part of our celebration for 50 years in women’s sports at Appalachian State, appstatesports.com will publish a monthly feature throughout 2018-19 on some of the top women’s sports moments in school history.
August Feature: 1986-87 Women’s Basketball
The birthplace of women’s sports at Appalachian State University began on an old grass field in Durham Park.
In 1968, field hockey became the first women’s sport at Appalachian. Fifty years later, the university now supports 10 different women’s varsity sports.
With Appalachian celebrating 50 years of women’s sports in 2018-19, Mountaineers of past and present can thank Jan Watson for getting it all started. Watson, a 2008 Appalachian State Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, became the school’s first field hockey coach in the spring of 1968.
Watson said her interest in Appalachian began as a child.
“Anytime we went anywhere, there was a college or university my parents always drove me through and instilled in me that I was going to college,” she said. “So we came to Appalachian State Teachers College, and my dad and mom told me that I said ‘This is where I want to teach.'”
Two years after graduating from Winthrop University, she began working toward a master’s degree at Appalachian in 1966.
As a graduate student, Watson taught field hockey skills classes out of the physical education department. One day, after teaching one of those classes, administrators asked Watson to meet with them.
At that meeting, Dr. William H. Plemmons, Appalachian’s president from 1955-69, asked Watson to become the first field hockey coach.
“They knew it was a sport that was going to grow,” Watson said. “I fell in love with it because it was something different.”
Shortly before Watson’s meeting with Plemmons, the school sent out a survey to female students, asking them which sport Appalachian should sponsor first.
Even with basketball growing as a popular women’s sport, Watson said the survey’s results overwhelmingly favored field hockey because of how many Appalachian State students came from the Northeast during that time.
Given a small budget of $1,200 and no scholarships, Watson began preparing for the inaugural season. Her long list included buying all of the team’s equipment, ordering uniforms, writing promotional material and recruiting women from her skills classes to form the school’s first squad.
Because of limited resources, Watson accomplished those tasks with no assistant coaches. Her preparation also produced a phenomenal first season, as the team went 12-1-1 and ended the year with seven straight shutout victories.
“I had some of the hardest-working young ladies I’ve ever seen,” Watson said. “They worked so hard, and they’d come to practice and give it everything they had.”
Between her two stints as the Mountaineers’ head coach (1968-71 and 1974-82), Watson notched a 139-55-36 record, including nine seasons with double-digit win totals. Her 139 victories still rank as the most in school history.
Yet, Watson said the on-field success came secondary to empowering young women through sports. She said members of the Appalachian administrative staff, such as former athletics director Jim Jones, made it possible for the athletics department to become one of the first coed departments in the region.
In 1972, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was born, and Watson was one its biggest supporters. Watson served on the advisory board for the AIAW for eight of organization’s 10 years in existence.
Watson also started the Deep South Field Hockey Association, the organization in which the Mountaineers played until the AIAW merged with the NCAA in 1982.
Her efforts with the AIAW helped pass Title IX legislation in 1972, which by 1978 was a compliance requirement for all universities.
“One of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen was the development of women’s sports,” Watson said. “We’d go up to Washington and lobby, and it was so exciting. I was very grateful to be a part of it.”
Watson wrapped up her coaching career with the Black and Gold in 1982, but she continued teaching at Appalachian until 1999.
The former coach is still involved with the program, attending many of the Mountaineers’ games at Brandon and Erica M. Adcock Complex. She also helped raise funds for Appalachian’s new fieldhouse that opened in August.
The field hockey program is now making strides with its eighth head coach, Meghan Dawson. The Mountaineers opened the 2018 season 4-1. The impact of Watson’s and the administration’s work in the late 1960s helped make each new season another possible page of history.
“Most universities were forced into it, but we just did it,” Watson said. “That’s an exciting thing to me. I just hope that all these kids that are coming back realize what a part of history they are.”