In Fall 1959, the newly formed Women’s Recreation Association at Creighton organized several intramural sports activities, including instruction in “water ballet” (photo courtesy of Creighton University)


The women are forever young as they smile cheerfully from a mid-20th century black-and-white photograph.

It was their moment in time and, like the women pioneers who preceded them on the American Great Plains, these Creighton University athletes proved a revolutionary force. Within ten years, they and their sisters across the nation would see the president of the United States sign into law “Title IX”: an amendment to federal civil rights law that bans every educational institution throughout the land in receipt of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex in its programs or activities. And that includes sports.

Fifty years have passed since former President Richard Nixon put his name to that directive in 1972. The Creighton women who were then performing intramural water ballet and synchronized swimming routines, and indeed those of even earlier dates who formed rifle teams and fitness clubs in the 1930s, must surely today marvel at the vibrant world of women’s athletics they did so much to create.

Today, women’s collegiate sports are mainstream. For example, a recent Creighton women’s basketball game in November 2022 drew 2,306 spectators to the University’s D.J. Sokol Arena, where they handily defeated their in-state rival, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). A month earlier, the nationally-ranked Creighton volleyball team took on UNL’s powerhouse volleyball team before an NCAA record crowd of 15,797 fans. That is a transformative number.

Kirsten Bernthal Booth is the portrait those early Creighton pioneers dreamed of painting.

A star of tennis and volleyball at Lincoln East High School in Nebraska, where she became an all-state setter in volleyball and a three-time All-American and two-time state champion in singles tennis, she embarked on a collegiate volleyball career as player and coach. Today, she is the head coach of Creighton’s women’s volleyball program. In 2002, she inherited a 3-23 Bluejay team. Twenty years later, her 24-3 team is knocking on the door of a top-10 national ranking.

Women’s sports at Creighton, Booth says, follows the faith of the pioneers, that for women in all fields of endeavor, the inconceivable is achievable. “Creighton does so much more than just build athletes,” she says. “We develop people. If you talk with our alumni, they will tell you that although sport was a large part of their college experience, more important was the empowerment they developed to believe that they can do anything they set their mind to.

“We have volleyball alums who are doctors, lawyers, coaches, teachers, stay-at-home moms, pharmacists, executives, nurses, professional athletes, and so much more,” she says. “We want our athletes — and particularly our female athletes — to know there isn’t a glass ceiling they can’t break, and we at Creighton help them develop the skills necessary to believe the inconceivable is achievable.”

As the softball coach from 1977 to 1993, Mary Higgins helped Creighton reach two NCAA Women’s College World Series Tournaments and two AIAW World Series Tournaments (photo courtesy of Creighton University)


Twenty years before Booth took up the volleyball cause, student Mary Higgins pitched the idea of a Creighton University softball team. Armed with Title IX legislation, she won her battle in 1973 and served as the University’s softball coach from 1977 to 1993. Today, she is a Hall of Fame member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, having built a 564-298 career record while twice reaching the NCAA Women’s College World Series.

The walls had fallen, and the story of women’s sports at Creighton ever since has been a story of forward momentum:

And so, the story of women’s athletics at Creighton rolls on, always with the goal, according to Allison Taylor, executive director of Creighton’s Office of Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance, of enabling women to fulfill their potential.

“Our mission calls us to be women and men for and with others, ensuring equity and access for all students,” she says. “Creighton’s holistic approach to Title IX ensures female students, including student athletes, have the opportunities and support they need in order to achieve their highest potential.”

By Eugene Curtin, Office of Marketing and Communications at Creighton University