Marya Welch, a pioneering professor and leader in collegiate sports who established women's athletics at the University of California, Davis, died June 24 after a brief illness, according to a university news statement. She was 95.
A quarter-century before federal Title IX mandated gender equity in college sports, Ms. Welch was hired by UC Davis to set up an athletic program for women. She arrived in 1947 as the ninth female faculty member and the first in the physical education department on a campus of about 1,200 students including only 100 women.
"But those women wanted the same thing that the male students wanted athletic programs that would challenge and interest them," she recalled in a 2006 convocation speech at UC Davis.
Ms. Welch taught early courses and established and coached teams in archery, basketball, equestrian, riflery, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball. She also served as dean of women and founded the UC Davis chapter of the Prytanean Women's Honor Society.
She started intramural and extramural sports programs for women and established the Women's Athletic Association. She was a founding member of the Extramural League of Northern California and the Western Society of Women in Physical Education. She served on committees for the Division of Girls' and Women's Sports, an early national group that sets standards and rules.
Ms. Welch, who retired in 1987, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletic Administrators in 2005. She was inducted into the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991 and was named Picnic Day Parade grand marshal eight years later.
Her legacy at UC Davis includes a tennis complex and student housing complex named for her. In addition, the Marya Welch Women's Team Award was created to recognizes sports teams with the highest grade-point average.
Ms. Welch spent an extraordinary life blazing trails for women. Born in 1916 in Guthrie, Okla., she learned at an early age to ride a horse, hunt with a rifle and drive a car. She left home at 15 to earn an associate of arts degree at William Woods University in Missouri. During the 1930s, she toured the Midwest with a women's baseball team.
During World War II, she was the 57th woman to enlist in the WAVES and was assigned to manage recreation programs for soldiers. She later served in the Navy Reserve and retired as a lieutenant commander.
She earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of Oklahoma in 1937, a master's degree from UC Berkeley in 1949 and an education doctorate from Columbia University in 1952. She taught at Long Beach City College and Woodland High School before UC Davis. She received a Fulbright Fellowship in 1960.
She lived in Davis for 65 years and never married. She enjoyed scuba diving in the Red Sea, Mexico and Hawaii. She traveled to many countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America.
With enthusiasm and determination, Ms. Welch overcame scarce resources and many obstacles to create a place for female athletes. She recruited players who wore numerals pinned to their shirts because there was no money for women's uniforms. She stood up to male coaches who tried to muscle her teams aside at practice facilities.
In her 2006 convocation address, she said she did it "partly because I am a competitor myself." She said she wanted female athletes "to be able to compete on the very highest level" and "to enjoy all the other things that go with being active lifelong social and movement skills."
"I believe that sport is really about the way you live," she added. "Be well prepared. Be fair. Respect your competition. And measure your success by goals you set for yourself, not whether you win or lose."