Mag Strittmatter built foundation for Penn State
On one hand, Mag Strittmatter is thrilled that collegiate sports is celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Title IX.
On the other hand, she can’t believe a half century has passed since she became Penn State’s first female scholarship athlete.
“It’s a shock that it’s gone that fast,” Strittmatter said recently from her home in New Mexico. “Looking over those years and seeing how it’s advanced and looking at women in leadership roles … all those things start with having access to an education. I cannot emphasize that enough.”
Strittmatter enjoyed rewinding the tape from her days growing up in Patton.
During the spring of her freshman year, in 1971, “all the girls were called into the (school) auditorium” and informed Cambria Heights would be offering a girls basketball team for the first time.
Being one of the tallest girls in her class and having regularly played basketball in the family’s barn against older brothers John and Bob, Mag knew opportunity was knocking.
“The high school guys would come over, and I was so intrigued, and I had to practically beg them to let me play,” she said. “I had several years of playing against the guys.”
After Heights teachers Chuck and Elaine Solomon told the new Lady Highlanders about the fledgling program, Strittmatter thought, “I get to play against girls; this is going to work out pretty well for me.”
Did it ever.
Though the team didn’t have time to yet purchase uniforms, instead wearing “gym shorts and pinnies,” Strittmatter immediately established herself as an inside force against the likes of Central Cambria, Bishop Carroll, Blacklick Valley and Ferndale.
Growing to 6-feet tall — “significant for a woman,” she said — Strittmatter was recommended to Penn State by the Solomons.
New coach Pat Meiser invited her to State College “for an interview and a tryout.”
Mag was working at Tritex Sportswear in Altoona, saving money and planning to attend Penn State Altoona. Within two days, those plans changed.
“She (Meiser) had people there to see if I could play, and a day or two later, she asked what I would think about coming to Penn State,” Strittmatter said.
A partial grant was offered for the first year and a full scholarship, Penn State’s first and “one of the first in the country,” followed effective her sophomore year (1975).
Strittmatter started four years — three at the White Building, the last at Rec Hall — and averaged a career double-double (12.2 points and 10.3 rebounds). She left Penn State as its all-time rebounding leader, and she remains the only player in school history to average a double-double for her career.
Though she’s proud of her place in Penn State history — “it makes me smile” — Strittmatter feels even better about the growth of women in sports and what it provided her.
“So many of the women’s sports (then) were club teams, when you didn’t have the full-throated support of the university,” she said. “The whole idea of wearing the school’s colors you never forget and being part of those early days and such a rich tradition and what women have accomplished is remarkable. I was just at the street corner. Until then, the playing field was not level. Because of Title IX and access to higher ed, so many leaders have emerged, and it speaks to progression and allowing women to really thrive and be their best.”
She pointed to Meiser, who went from Penn State to UConn and became an administrator who, she said, “hired a guy named Geno (Auriemma) and Jim Calhoun.”
She pointed to Sandy Barbour, and although the two haven’t met, Strittmatter said, “I’ve followed her time at Penn State very enthusiastically. Seeing how Sandy was received and doing so many things on the capital side, I think it’s wonderful, and I hope she’s the first of many (ADs) and not the last.”
Strittmatter returned to Penn State a couple of years ago at the invitation of new women’s coach Carolyn Kieger.
“I had a chance to visit with her and walk down memory lane,” she said. “She’s interested in getting a sense of the history and the tradition. It was really nice to feel reconnected with the program.”
These days, Strittmatter, 65, is president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank, the largest food bank in New Mexico and part of the Feeding America program.
“New Mexico has some of the highest food insecurity and poverty in the country,” she said, adding: “I really believe you learn servant leadership through sports.”
Neil Rudel covers Penn State sports from the Altoona Mirror.