Judy Nielsen

S: What sports did you do?
J: I played soccer, I played volleyball, and I played basketball.
S: How long did you do each sport? Did you start in high school – or I guess volleyball and soccer are in the same season.
J: Well they weren’t back then.
S: Oh really?
J: They were and they weren’t. Depending. I played soccer in middle school and then I switched and played volleyball in high school because I got tired of being in the cold and rain. And then I played basketball all of high school.
S: Was it varsity all four years?
J: Yes, but there was only one team. The school was much smaller back then.
S: I don’t know how many times bush has had a jv girls team. I’ve seen a couple pictures out in the hall but not many.
J: Yeah. Well there were only 39 in my class, so what are you gonna do?
S: Did you get any awards, or what leadership positions did you have?
J: I was captain of the volleyball team for 2 years or 3 years, I don’t even remember. I was co-captain of the basketball team.
S: How did you get into each of your sports?
J: I honestly don’t remember. It just seemed like something you could sign up to do. I did the mountaineering program here back then, which was not a sport but it was what we did in the spring. We climbed Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens and so it was good training. And I skied so playing a sport in the winter kept me fit so I could ski easily and race.
S: Did you continue playing after high school?
J: Nope! Nope. I grew my hair out and grew my nails.
S: Yeah that’s what I hate most about sports is that I can’t have nice nails.
J: Yeah, I had to cut ‘em all off and I threw off my basketball shot too because when my hair was long I always threw my head to the right when I was shooting to keep it out of my face. MY coach made me have bangs or wear it up. It helped my shot.
S: Oh man. Yeah I remember once I was taking a long time to put my hair up and Floyd told me that if I ever struggle with my hair anymore he was gonna cut it off *laughs*
J: Yup! It makes your shot difficult.
S: For sure. So moving on, did you have any role models growing up in athletics?
J: I guess I could say my girlfriend I grew up with who actually went to Bush, who still to this day runs competitively. Bush did not have a track team when we were here. There was no track. You had soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis. We had sailing in middle school. Jay was a phenomenal athlete in any sport she did. She is my age – 56 – and she is still running nationally in womens over 50 and competes and trains and has always been an incredible athlete. It’s impressive.
S: Do you watch any sports on TV?
J: I watch a lot of college sports, a little professional sports. I watch a lot of football, basketball, crew when we can get it. That one’s hard to find. Mens and womens professional basketball, I don’t watch mens but I do watch the Storm. I watch soccer sometimes. I watch the Sounders play.
J: Oh The Olympics! I watch the Olympics diligently. In the summer, not so much. THe other sport I do watch is Formula 1 racing. We watch that one every time, including every qualifying practice which means next week we will be watching for three days. Olympics I watch the winter a lot. I love to watch curling, downhill racing, jumping sometimes. I’m not so fond of watching ice skating. It’s not really competing against each other. I like the team – the competition against each other.
S: What about like mens vs. womens sports, do you find yourself watching more of either?
J: I probably watch more mens sports only because I love to watch football and F1 racing and there are no women in those levels. Women owners, which I find interesting. It’s a lot safer – oh, you be the owner and don’t get hit and don’t crash.
S: Yeah. So switching gears a little bit, what were some obstacles you faced growing up through athletics?
J: I think there weren’t that many obstacles. When I was at Bush was just when we were going coed. When I entered everything was all girls, everything above 5th grade was female only. So there was oodles of female opportunity but as they wen coed they wanted to attract the boys o they dumped all the funding into the boys programs. They built brand new locker rooms for the boys, all-new weight rooms for the boys. The girls had closets of locker rooms. Girls were really here in abundance and they were really trying to bring the boys in. The boys coaches were brought in from the outside. In 9th grade our coach of the girls basketball team was the headmaster of the school. He did not play basketball. He did not believe in competition. He went to Russia in the middle of the season.
S: Oh yeah! Janice told me that.
J: Yeah, so she was my coach. She took over in the middle of the season because he just went away! *laughs* THe next year she continued coaching but brought in someone else. Then they hired someone else to be the actual basketball coach who kicked our tails junior and senior year. And we got pretty good. But before that girls at the point was sort of set aside because all the interest was for the boys at the school.
S: Did the boys have a real coach?
J: Oh yeah. Yup. They had an outside coach and there were boys on the team who went on to play Division I sports.
S: Wow.
J: But it was one guy who got recruited and got built around. It was definitely a difference. Victoria knows the story: Bush did not teach typing when I went here. We handwrote everything. The only people at Bush who got typing lessons were the girls and boys basketball teams because we only have one gym. Before we had arrangements to share with another location. One team had early practice and one team had late practice and we alternated every other day. And if you had late practice, one of the players on the boys team whose mother was a secretary in the lower school had decided we should all learn to type. So if you had late practice, you had a typing class after school, until your practice started. We were the only students in the school who learned how to type which in this day and age of computers and kids woh are on them constantly… we had wrote everything
S: I remember when I was in 5th grade we had typing class, but after that we typed for a lot of our classes.
J: Bush did not teach it at all. There was no point. Many parents were annoyed that the basketball team seemed to have an advantage for heading into college. We all knew how to type. It was one of the benefits of playing basketball at Bush – it was an offside benefit.
S: I know now, like, other athletes get a little salty because basketball has gotten the whole track suits and the warm up shirts and bags and shoes.
J: We didn’t have any of that. Except, my junior and senior year when they brought in [name] to coach us, he came in with: “You have to wear appropriate footwear.” Because the girls were just playing with whatever shoes they had, so just tennis shoes. Because it was only one gym, it wasn’t like certain things couldn’t go on that floor. It was used from kindergarten through twelfth grade for every single thing including the Rambler garage sale… everything occurred on that floor so there wasn’t that force that you had to have special shoes on the floor but he was like “you really need to have appropriate footwear.” He had us get really, really ugly footwear.
S: Mmm yeah makes sense. So switching topics a little bit, what sort of obstacles did you face growing up in athletics?
J: Well they’ve always had sports teams for the girls. So it didn’t have that obstacle. Our obstacle came because they were adding boys so they were shifting the resources from a marketing standpoint of the school. The good or the bad of that… you know, the girls took a hit for a few years.
S: How long did it take for the girls to get locker rooms like the boys?
J: Oh, until they built Phelps(?) gym. Our locker room was about the size of this dirt with one communal shower that had like 6 showerheads, two sinks, and two toilets. That was it for all the girls in the school.
S: K through 12, too?
J: Yup. Except the lower schoolers didn’t need lockers, although you did have to change your clothes for P.E. So we did have to go in and change. You did have to change your clothes but yeah it was the entire student body.
S: How big was the boys’ locker room?
J: Oh very large! *laughs* very large! It had benches, it was huge… We like snuck in occasionally and we were like, really?! Because the visiting team would have to use our locker room, so for girls games we got to use the boys locker room and the visiting team had to use ours.
S: Dang, kinda weird.
J: It was the way we did it.
S: Yeah. What kept you playing?
J: I think the girls on the team, each team we had fun together and I think I just wanted to stay in shape for ski season and mountain climbing.
S: So was mountaineering like your top priority?
J: It just was what we had to do. I did it in the spring. Rob P[…] who ran it back then, we couldn’t go up and do the ascents of the snow mountains unless we could run a mile under a certain amount of time because we had to have the oxygen capacity. If i didn’t do anything all winter, I would’ve never been able to do it. It was a requirement. So you just had to stay in shape and it was fun. We had good times on the teams and learned lots of things, played interesting schools back then that don’t exist anymore.
S: Times have changed. Last question… I’m going to be presenting to young students at the end of projects. My goal is to educate them about what it’s like being a woman in athletics but also empower them and get them excited about sports. Because I think young girls don’t always get that same push to sports as young boys, especially in the higher levels. Is there anything you’d like to tell them?
J: I think certain athletics, absolutely. I would think in Seattle, at least Madison park – this area of the city along with many areas – I would bet almost every single child plays soccer. Because there are so many small soccer leagues in the neighborhoods. For the little kids, both girls played soccer for two or three years. Not their sport, neither of them are long-distance runners, but they went and did it. And I think that it’s families getting them involved at a young age. T-ball for kids, baseball, softball, whichever one girls and boys want to play. But I think it takes parents getting them involved at young ages to get them going and being willing to do it. I think from the middle school to high school, interestingly when I was a junior or senior, the volleyball coach who was here was not a full-time employee at Bush but was brought in to coach the girls volleyball team, played in college and she had connections so I got recruited by Grinnell in Iowa. I was like “Where?” It’s in Iowa, I was like, “No thank you. But thanks for the offer!” It was interesting but I really had never thought about laying in college. Bush doesn’t… It doesn’t place a lot of athletes in Division 1 schools and it’s a challenge within Bush for students to go into college playing sports. Especially if they’re trying to get a scholarship or make a team. I think that’s one area where Bush does not do its best work. It just never has. The parent again has to be hyper involved to make sure everything is dotted, t-ed, and turned in and pursued on that level> I think that if the more kids in a class that learn the sport through PE, if it’s basketball or if it’s soccer or ultimate frisbee, if they learn it and they find it’s fun and they find out there’s a team I can do this on, that helps. It’s very hard to get kids to take up a sport they’ve never played unless they have friends who are doing it or a sibling. Because you do get kids that come up into Bush who’ve never played ultimate and join the team because.. I think I can throw a frisbee. It’s not golf – it’s still challenging, but it’s an easier sport to pick up and some levels. So I think just for the kids – try it!