Rita Yerkes (right)
Courtesy: Towson Athletics
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Rita Yerkes (right)
Rita Yerkes Recalls Early Days in Towson Center
Courtesy: Peter Schlehr, SID Emeritus  
Release: 02/25/2013

TOWSON, Md. – Oh, how times have changed – just ask Rita Yerkes who served as Towson’s head women’s basketball coach when the Tigers played their first-ever home game in the Towson Center in November, 1976.

The Tigers clobbered Western Maryland 80-30 in their Towson Center debut. Since then 206 women have played 466 home games, compiling a 254-212 record over 37 seasons. However, any similarity between the program under Rita Yerkes’ direction and now under  Joe Mathews is purely coincidental.

Oh, how times have changed.

“I remember having arguments with the administration’s contention over the women not needing shoes or eating as much as men on road trips,” said Yerkes, who is currently the Senior Research Fellow in the Aurora University president’s office and the principal of a  budding consulting firm, Yerkes Consulting LLC, targeting business, education, organized camping and recreation services. “We fought to have enough money just to feed the players after games. It was in that era when women were just coming in and not expecting equality but asking for some of the same basic appropriate things as the men were being given. But the world has changed a lot since then.”

Today the Tigers have a full-time coach along with three assistants and a director of basketball operations. The program is funded with scholarship players. The Tigers' coach can also count on a support staff that includes an academic advisor, strength and conditioning coach, a certified athletic trainer and a travel coordinator.  

“We didn’t have scholarships to offer kids.” says Yerkes of those early Title IX days. “I was a part-time coach, my load was only a quarter of coaching, the rest was teaching in the physical education department. I eventually had two assistants but they were part-time too.”

Undaunted, Yerkes saw the move from Burdick Hall to the Towson Center as a positive. The Tigers finished with a 12-10 record in 1976-77 and were 5-5 against a home schedule that included the Maryland Terrapins and the Pitt Panthers. Towson lost to both.

“We were playing a lot of Division I schools in that change over period,” says Yerkes who coached the Tigers in their final Division II seasons. “So in 1978, I went to a coaching clinic where I was the only woman sitting there among 600 men. UCLA basketball coach John Wooden gave a presentation. Afterwards I introduced myself to him and later he sent our team a note of encouragement. I still have that note.”

Yerkes compiled a 24-14 home record over three seasons in the Towson Center. Additionally, during her tenure the Tiger women captured a Maryland Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (MAIAW) state title and two EAIAW regional titles. Those remain as Towson’s two of only only three championships (regional for conference) in the history of the women’s program.

After the 1977-78 season Yerkes took a leave of absence to complete her doctorate. The reins were handed to one of her assistants, Breezy Bishop.

“When I got back from the leave there was a new athletic director (Joe McMullen) who said they wanted to go in another direction with the women’s basketball program,” Yerkes recalls. “They kept Breezy and made her the head coach so I returned to full-time teaching.”

Yerkes has no regrets and benefitted greatly from the experience. But enough was enough.

“By then I had gotten to the point with athletics where it’s your whole life and decided I didn’t want to devote 24-7 to it,” Yerkes says. “In those early years I don’t think the women were prepared for what being on scholarship really meant. It was not a free ride. They didn’t understand the expectation that if you didn’t produce you weren’t going to play. It was a period of adjustment. They didn’t understand that kind of pressure.”

Upon leaving Towson, Yerkes spent two years at Miami of Ohio and two more at SUNY Cortland before settling in at Aurora where she served in a number of capacities in higher education administration including a five-year stint as athletic director at its George Williams College, revamping and restructuring the department. As a professor and dean she created numerous student teams to conduct consulting projects for business, education, human services agencies, communities and non-profit organizations.

Yerkes is the past president of the Council on Outdoor Education, past president and accreditation chair of the Association for Experiential Education and co-founder of the Coalition of Education in the Outdoors and currently serves on American Camp Association committees and the ACA-IL board. She has served as an editorial board member for Camping Magazine, Journal of Experiential Education and the Eric Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.  She has authored book chapters, numerous journal articles and conference presentations. She is currently engaged in writing an institutional history and hopes to publish the book soon.

Even though more than three decades have passed since she led the Tigers in their first Towson Center season, Yerkes can still recall the five players who started in the tip-off game.

“We started Denise Houck, Meg Buckley, Vonda Wilkens, Stephanie Roche and Ann Welham,” says Yerkes. “I still stay in touch with some of the players and faculty. I have very fond memories of my years at Towson.”

But oh how times have changed.


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