Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

‘Swing for the fences’

“At Redlands, I learned how to win, how to lose, and, most importantly, how to play on a team,” says Caroline Brigham Vassallo ’62, who first launched the Bulldog women’s tennis team.

Even though women’s sports were not as developed as they are today, when I arrived at the University of Redlands as a first-year student in 1958, I had been playing tennis for several years. My father had taught me the game at Brookside Park in my hometown of Pasadena, California, and I had already won several local and regional championships.

But—in this era before Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity—there was a Bulldog men’s tennis team but not yet one for women.

While I was not comfortable asking to play with the men, I did want to identify other women on campus interested in playing tennis. Betti Sherman, who taught in the physical education department, encouraged me to approach the University’s legendary tennis coach Jim Verdieck with the idea—and he liked it. From there, the new Bulldog “women’s tennis team” was formed!

I was joined by Ann Avery Andres ’62, Lois Thorpe Davies ’61, Susan Hooper ’62, Bette Mae Sams Locke ’60, and Sally Wieschendorff Morris ’61. Playing as a team improved our skills and created a special kind of comradery.

After discovering a league that included women from Pasadena College (now Point Loma Nazarene University) and Pomona College, we won every competition we played that season. The defining moment was defeating UCLA in the Southern California Women’s Collegiate Championship—what an absolute thrill! That victory was not only validating, but instilled a sense of pride knowing that our precedent would pave the way for Bulldog women to play as a team in future years.

I wanted to participate in upcoming tournaments, and again consulted Coach, who agreed that Susan and I could accompany the men’s team to the competition in Tucson, Arizona (with my mother, who chaperoned us). Even though I lost to Darlene Hard, a former U.S. women’s champion, it was incredible to represent Redlands at that tournament.

It was Coach’s idea to take Susan, Betty Mae, and me to another tournament in Ojai, this time without a chaperone. We were there for several days, as was the men’s team, and I won two rounds before losing to U.S. Junior Girls’ Champion Jackie Tegland. While I enjoyed the chance to travel (and later was part of the Salzburg Semester’s first class), what mattered most was that Coach brought us into his fold. We were accepted, as athletes and contenders, and Coach trusted us with our sport. His extraordinary support of our team was way ahead of his time.

Three years ago, I attended Bulldog women’s tennis team matches in Ventura and at Occidental College, and was able to share some of my experiences from a half-century before with those student-athletes. Being with them was such fun—they even asked me to pose with them in photos! Seeing these Bulldog players revived all of my positive feelings about Redlands (and yes, I can still do the “Och Tamale” with a snap of my fingers)!

Dad always told me to “swing for the fences,” to do my best and elevate myself, both mentally and physically. Playing competitive sports taught me so much. At Redlands, I learned how to win, how to lose, and, most importantly, how to play on a team. As part of a team (even in a singles sport like tennis), we elevated one another, and that’s a lesson I will always remember.

Learn more about U of R women’s tennisBulldog Athletics, or the Campaign for Bulldog Athletics.