BOULDER — They still remember when their coach bought the team ice cream cones.
That’s when Judy Sigel Freeman and Jill Sigel Greer — identical twins who showed up at the University of Colorado in 1971 with absolutely no thought of actually playing tennis for the Buffaloes — knew they’d “hit the jackpot.”
“It was so amazing to us that someone would buy us something to eat because we played tennis for CU,” recalled Jill. “We looked at each other and said we’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Maybe not actually heaven. But with the recently enacted Title IX legislation newly in place and Colorado sponsoring a women’s tennis program, Boulder was close enough in 1972.
Close enough, anyway, that the circumstances that swept Judy and Jill up when they arrived at CU changed the course of their lives in ways they could never have imagined.
“CU allowed us to grow,” Judy said. “Title IX gave us a chance and CU changed our lives. We just caught the wave and rode it.”
Indeed, it is hard to fathom the convergence of coincidence that came together to produce such an impact on their lives.
Judy and Jill Sigel grew up in a Minneapolis suburb during an era when high schools didn’t sponsor girls sports. The two had played tennis together throughout their youth — but never had the chance to play on a team or have the “luxury” of an actual coach.
“We watched how other people played,” Judy said. “That’s how we learned. We played with each other and learned from that.”
Not that they didn’t take the opportunity to give themselves some competition whenever possible. They spent as much time as they could at local city courts, where they played anybody and everybody who showed up.
“We were kind of hustlers,” Jill said with a laugh. “You could play and if you won you held the court. We’d play the guys, win the court and hold it all day. We were always coming home late because we didn’t want to give up our court.”
But that was basically the extent of their tennis competition. Women’s college teams were few and far between, “recruiting” was unheard of — and besides, Jill and Judy had no real competitive resumé.
Thus, upon graduation from St. Louis Park High School, the two decided to attend Colorado “because we both loved to ski.”
Then their lives took some twists and turns they could never have envisioned.
“We were playing tennis together on orientation weekend because we didn’t know anybody else,” Jill recalled. “The CU coach saw us, invited us to try out for the team and it kind of grew from there.”
CU did have a fledgling tennis team at the time, coached by Dusty Delario. But it was basically a club program that played a few matches a year against nearby schools such as Northern Colorado and Colorado Mines.
Jill and Judy took up Delario’s invitation and made the team. That first year, they played a few matches, had some fun and enjoyed the honor of wearing “CU” warmups — even though those warmups were ill-fitting castoffs from Colorado’s men’s programs.
They also, for the first time in their lives, had an actual coach.
“He taught us how to play,” Judy said.
But there were more changes ahead. The summer of 1972 brought about legislation that would ultimately produce a seismic shift on the American sports landscape.
Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that received federal funding, was signed into existence.
It meant colleges were required to sponsor and support women’s sports. It meant new programs and new opportunities that had never before existed for girls and young women in America.
It was quite simply the dawn of a new era — and what was needed were some “pioneers” to pave the way.
“We were so lucky — we were in the right place at the right time and it was life-changing,” Judy said. “We were presented with an opportunity that no women before us had ever had.”
Not that CU’s early women’s programs were immediately afforded the same support as men’s teams. That was a process that would take years.
But the team did have a small budget — enough to allow for some travel to matches and accessories such as actual warmups.
“Our coach, Dusty, didn’t like CU’s school colors at the time,” Judy said. “So he got us some red, white and blue warmups that said ‘CU Tennis.'”
Judy kept that warmup — and three decades later, when CU honored the 30th anniversary of Title IX by awarding all the athletes from that era their official letters in an on-campus celebration, she donated the warmup to CU.
It now hangs in venerable Old Main as part of a display celebrating the history of women’s sports at CU.
The twins played four years for the Buffs. They served as co-captains and participated in regional and national competitions. They practiced, they played, they traveled and they began the process of establishing a culture of women’s sports at the University of Colorado.
To be clear, the fruits of Title IX were only barely beginning to blossom. Still, there were still some benefits Judy and Jill had never before enjoyed.
“When we played growing up, we wore cutoff jeans and high-top tennis shoes,” Jill said with a laugh. “When we didn’t have to wear those anymore, we were thrilled.”
They also enjoyed the extra support of a CU booster who was an executive with HEAD, a tennis gear company. That booster had an indoor tennis court in Boulder, and she regularly invited CU’s team to play there — and she also provided the Buffs with new HEAD rackets.
“We couldn’t believe someone would give us free rackets just because we played for CU,” Jill said. “It was one of those moments when we couldn’t believe how lucky we were.”
The two were also part of a grand experiment that ended up changing the look of tennis worldwide.
On one visit to the indoor court, they were asked to try some newfangled yellow tennis balls. HEAD officials wanted to know if they were easier to see than the traditional white balls.
“They were much easier to see,” Judy said. “We played with them and there was no doubt they were better.”
Soon, yellow tennis balls became the worldwide norm.
Understand, there were no scholarships for women at the time. The program did receive some barebones support for food, travel and other basics, but nowhere near the level of today’s world.
But there were also some perks that were particular to the era.
“Dusty (Delario) was also a ski instructor at Vail,” Judy remembers. “On the way home from some matches, we would stop at Vail and go skiing. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen today.”
After graduation, Judy and Jill both pursued teaching careers. They also both married and eventually ended up back in the Minneapolis area, and each had children who attended CU.
But it was immediately after receiving their degrees from Colorado and entering the job market that they realized what kind of impact their Buffs tennis careers would have.
The passage of Title IX meant more than just new programs in colleges. It also meant high schools across the nation were instituting sports programs for girls — and those programs needed coaches.
“We both got teaching jobs because our resumés had CU tennis on them,” Jill said. “We actually had our pick of jobs because so many schools needed someone who could coach.”
Tennis, of course, was their sport. But before long, they were also asked to coach a variety of sports, from volleyball to basketball.
“Anyone who had any kind of training in sports got a job,” Judy said. “Title IX was having an impact everywhere and everyone needed coaches who had some kind of athletic background. It really didn’t matter if you had played that particular sport. They figured if you had competed at the college level, you had the background and could learn the sport.”
Jill and Judy were also members of the first generation that was able to reap the life lesson benefits that athletic participation provides — lessons that young men had been taking for granted forever.
“Sports can teach you so much,” Jill said. “How to compete, how to prepare, how to win, how to lose, how to improve, how to gain confidence. Most women we grew up with didn’t have those opportunities. That opened up roads for us we couldn’t have imagined. Title IX and CU changed our lives.”
They were, quite literally, pioneers who forged a path that would open doors for generations to come. They cheered when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973. They proudly wore University of Colorado gear and were elated when — three decades later — they were finally officially awarded their CU letters.
“It’s funny — when you’re a pioneer, you don’t realize it at the time,” Judy said. “I think it wasn’t until years later that we were really aware of what we had done.”
What they did was pave the way for future generations of girls to have new opportunities. High school sports programs for girls became commonplace, and youth programs were quick to follow.
“We never imagined that women’s sports would grow and be so successful,” Jill said. “There’s no way you could have predicted that back then. Our daughters and grandchildren have opportunities we never dreamed of. They have so many sports to choose from. They have coaches, facilities, opportunities we would have thought impossible.
“But at the time, when we were at CU, we thought what we had was wonderful.”
Indeed, those years at Colorado set the stage for a lifetime of athleticism the two still enjoy. The two earned national USTA rankings in doubles as they continued to play together, and they still regularly play tennis, golf and ski.
“We are still vibrant and active because Title IX gave us a chance to thrive,” Judy said. “We had the opportunity to compete and learn all the things you get from competing. How to win, how to lose, how to improve, how to thrive, how to give your best, how to be part of a team… those things weren ‘t available to young women for the most part before Title IX. Girls growing up then didn’t have those opportunities.
Thursday, June 23, will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of Title IX legislation.
Judy and Jill have plans to celebrate.
“Along with drinking champagne we will be playing golf and tennis,” Judy said. “We will be wearing all black with hot pink hats — the colors that we hope all women will wear that day to promote women in athletics.
“Title IX changed our lives. We are grateful to have ridden that Title IX wave so our children and grandchildren can participate in sports and benefit in all the fantastic opportunities that athletics create.”
NOTE: A third SIgel sister, Susie, graduated from CU and was a cheerleader for the football and basketball teams from 1978-82.