Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Women's Sports Pioneer Joan Schaefer Dies

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Women's Sports Pioneer Joan Schaefer Dies

Article excerpt

Back in the day, Joan Schaefer thought girls were getting a raw deal on the playing field -- if they could find a playing field at all. So Mrs. Schaefer, a Bergenfield mother of two and community volunteer, gave them a league of their own.

In 1959, she founded United Girls Athletic League Suburbia, or UGALS, a softball league with six central Bergen County teams.

Until her death Monday at 98, Mrs. Schaefer remained president of UGALS, now an ages 10-17 league with more than 80 teams in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties.

"Joan was a pioneer in women's sports in this area," said Mariann Canino of Bergenfield, who as a 13-year-old played third base on one of the original UGALS teams. "Girls growing up when I did, and even now, have her to thank."

Mrs. Schaefer once told the Twin-Boro News that she liked sports and was considered a tomboy during her youth in Hackensack. She enjoyed motorcycling and stashed her biking gear in a locker at the Hackensack YMCA, said her son, Dennis.

After marrying and settling in Bergenfield in 1938, Mrs. Schaefer became a youth sports volunteer through the borough's Recreation Committee and Police Athletic League. She was motivated to start UGALS, she said in the Twin-Boro interview, because she felt girls "were pushed to the background for so long."

Canino, long active in UGALS and Bergenfield recreation, believes she knows what lit Mrs. Schaefer's fuse. In the '50s, a Bergen County baseball and softball program had boys and girls divisions, but the boys' trophies were more than twice as big as the girls'.

"Joan recognized the lack of equality," Canino said. "So she called in a lot of markers and twisted a lot of arms and got a lot of people to say, 'Yes, we'll do it,' and she formed UGALS."

The first players took the field 13 years before Title IX opened the floodgates to female participation in high school and college sports. …

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