March 10, 2011 | Lynn Rosendale

Kay Tiemersma championed women's athletics back when they were "small potatoes" at Calvin.

Though never an athlete herself, Kay Hager Tiemersma delighted in the prowess of others and was thrilled to see women’s athletics become a legitimate part of the Calvin educational landscape.

A 1945 graduate and education major, Tiemersma returned to her alma mater in 1946 as an instructor of physical education. John Charles Bult, who represented the entire physical education faculty at that time, remembered Tiemersma with fondness in a 1996 interview: “It was a battle to get her—the school didn’t believe much in phys ed in those days—but she did such a good job, she changed some minds about the importance of physical education for women.”

In 1947, Tiemersma took over the women’s basketball coaching duties from Bult, who was also the men’s coach.  

Small potatoes

“Girls’ basketball was very small potatoes in those days,” said Marjean Eerkes DeGroot, a player on Tiemersma’s first team. “I just remember her being very encouraging and patient; she did a very good job.”

Dave Tuuk, physical education professor emeritus and author of Maroon and Gold will Bind our Heart: A History of Calvin Athletics 1915-1953, concurred. “The team had both size and speed, and played nearly airtight defense,” he wrote. “Coach Hager (later Tiemersma) deserves much credit for her success in building this talented championship squad.”

The team was undefeated in the six-team City League.

Tiemersma, who had been named director of women’s sports at Calvin, returned to the helm the following year. The team posted a 7-3 record, and had a lot of fun, said Betty Vredevoogd Zwemer, who played forward.  “She knew the game better than we girls did, that’s for sure,” she said of Tiemersma.

Dribble, dribble, pass

The game was quite different back then, DeGroot noted: “We played half court with three forwards and three guards. We could only dribble twice, and then we had to pass. To us, it seemed just right. Now when I watch my granddaughters play, I don’t know how they do it.”

Tiemersma, who died in 1996, also founded the Women’s Athletic Association at Calvin in the last 1940s. The sole purpose of the organization was to promote sports for all women on campus.

“She was the main force in getting women organized to participate in activities against other schools,” said Tuuk. “She was a wonderful person for the cause of women’s athletics.”

To honor her efforts, in 1975 Calvin created the Kay Tiemersma Award, which annually honors the school’s senior female student-athlete who best exemplifies athletic ability, scholastic standing, sportsmanship and character.

Introduction of women's sports at Calvin




1953—Archery (discontinued 1982)

1965—Field hockey (discontinued 1990), Volleyball

1979—Swimming, Track and Field

1980—Cross country



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