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A driving force

Posted 2:25 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Ellen Kreighbaum, '64, has been a trailblazer in women's collegiate sports.

Kreighbaum reflects on fight for equality in college athletics

When Ellen Kreighbaum was a junior at UW-La Crosse in the 1960s, she was prohibited from participating in women’s intramural sports. 

Back then, before the passage of Title IX gave women the right to equal opportunity in college sports, UWL considered that appropriate discipline for Kreighbaum and others who had played in an AAU basketball league. 

While Kreighbaum says she had an excellent academic experience at UWL, the prevailing attitudes toward intercollegiate women’s athletics at the time served as a major motivating force for Kreighbaum throughout her career. 

As a professor, coach and administrator at Montana State University, Kreighbaum helped pioneer the advancement of women’s collegiate athletics. She was integral to the creation of an intercollegiate athletics association that unlocked playing opportunities for women at MSU and across the Rocky Mountain region. 

“I knew there were many young women who wanted to compete in athletics and were not allowed,” Kreighbaum, ’64, explains. “With the support of at least one woman faculty member from each college and university in Montana, we formed the Montana Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (MWISA), developed a constitution and by-laws and competition rotation schedule.” 

Today, Montana State’s women’s athletics program is thriving, with competitive offerings in basketball, cross country, golf, skiing, tennis, track and field, volleyball and rodeo. And that is in large part thanks to Kreighbaum and the subsequent passage of Title IX in 1972. 

Kreighbaum was also the plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against the Montana State University System in 1976. The decision resulted in women faculty receiving major upgrades to salary, better hiring practices, and more equitable promotion and tenure guidelines. 

Kreighbaum retired from Montana State in 2004 after 39 years as a professor, department head of Health and Human Development, and associate dean of research and creative activities for the College of Education, Health and Human Development. 

For her nearly four decades of service, she received the Presidential Medallion at the university’s spring 2022 commencement ceremony. 

Her other professional accolades include being named a UWL outstanding alumnus and being inducted into the Montana State Athletic Hall of Fame. She was also named to a list of 125 extraordinary women in Montana State's history. 

Kreighbaum, who earned her PhD in biomechanics from Washington State University, also served as president of the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports. 

As for her undergraduate alma mater, Kreighbaum says she is proud of the progress UWL has made on women’s athletics — now a crown jewel of the university. 

“I was excited and pleased when I first read of the women’s basketball team at UWL hiring a coach and doing well in the conference,” Kreighbaum says, looking back. “Overall, women’s athletics has flourished. However, there is much still to do.” 

Kreighbaum says she would like to see an increase in the number of women coaches, along with salary increases; additions to women’s sports opportunities in compliance with Title IX; and stronger news coverage of women’s sports at all levels. 

 For young women aspiring to a career in athletics, she has three pieces of advice: 

  • Study under the best coaches.
  • Admit your mistakes and shortcomings.
  • And continue to press for positive changes to discriminatory practices.


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