It’s been more than 50 years since Kent State alumna Lois Youngen was an outfielder and catcher in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League — but it’s clear she still has a passion for the sport. On a sunny May afternoon last year — a day when she’s being honored for endowing a scholarship in her father’s name for a Golden Flash baseball player — she’s cheering on her alma mater’s team. And from her vantage point in the Schoonover Stadium stands, it’s obvious Dr. Youngen disagrees with the third-base coach’s decision to hold a runner as the batted ball soars.
“It’s going to drop in. Go for two!” she calls out, then pauses to evaluate the opposing pitcher’s performance. “Better pull that left-hander.”
Thankfully for the ardent sports fan and Kent State booster, the hold has no impact — the Flashes easily pull off a decisive 6-1 victory over Miami.
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Lois Youngen was a second-generation Kent Stater; both parents attended, and her father, Elden “Ty” Youngen, was captain of the baseball team in 1926. But when she arrived in 1951, there were no women’s varsity sports. So for four summers, Dr. Youngen played on the league made famous in the 1992 comedy A League of Their Own, on such teams as the Fort Wayne Daisies and the South Bend Blue Sox.
Started as a way of filling ballparks during World War II, the league continued into the mid-‘50s. And throughout four summers, Dr. Youngen and her teammates traveled the Midwest to play every night, with doubleheaders on Sundays — “and by August, we prayed for rain,” she says. This was baseball, not softball, and the women took all of the knocks and tumbles their male counterparts did — except they did it in a dress. Dr. Youngen still recalls her reaction the first time she saw the uniforms, which were designed by the wife of league owner Philip K. Wrigley: “’We’re going to have to play ball in that?’ They showed a lot of leg, which I guess was the goal.”
For Dr. Youngen, it was more than just a pastime; it paid her Kent State tuition. But her participation rankled some faculty members.
“I had difficulty with my women professors because I didn’t stop playing,” she says. “They didn’t know what to do with me, and I felt I could never please them. This was before Title IX,” the federal law that brought gender equity to collegiate sports.
But other professors were supportive. After she received her first A, in a zoology course, legendary professor J. Arthur Herrick asked her to be his assistant. Her academic success continued when she earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1955, followed by a master’s degree from Michigan State and a doctorate from Ohio State.
Education played a major role in the Youngen family; her mother, Helen, was an elementary school teacher, and her father, Elden, was a principal and superintendent. And despite being told by college professors that physical education “wasn’t ladylike,” for more than four decades Dr. Youngen make a successful career out of that field — most notably at the University of Oregon, where she taught a variety of activity and theory courses, and led the Department of Physical Activity and Recreation Services until 1996.
It was a long way from her early days at Kent State, when her love of sports was considered so improper.
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Back in the stands, Dr. Youngen is regaling a fan with stories from her baseball days — even as she stops mid-sentence to call out, “Fair ball!” when a ball soars into the outfield. But it is her lifetime in academia that led her to respond to the university’s call to fund its top priority, scholarships, by endowing one for a Kent State baseball player as part of the Centennial Campaign.
“There are lots of students who can’t afford to go to college,” she says. “I thought it was appropriate because my father was an educator, my mother was an educator, I was an educator.”
But perhaps more important is her understanding of the challenges college student-athletes face.
“These players might not go on to the next level,” she says, “so I think it’s important that they graduate so they can go on to their next level.”