Today, few people on campus know of Arlene Gorton ’52, a Brown athletic administrator who recently passed away. Anyone who participates in athletics at any level, however, is a beneficiary of Arlene’s inclusive philosophy that athletics are for everyone.
Arlene Gorton graduated from Pembroke College (the women’s division of Brown) in 1952, and she returned to College Hill in 1961 as director of physical education and a professor in the physical education department at Pembroke. At the time, drawing on a slim $2,000 athletic budget, Arlene ran seven club-varsity sports teams. Over the next four decades, Arlene skillfully navigated a series of dramatic events: the challenges of the turbulent 1960s, the Brown-Pembroke merger, the passing of Title IX legislation and the beginning of formal Ivy play for women in the late ’70s — not to mention the contentious battle over women’s sports between the NCAA and the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) in the ’80s.
As the lone voice for women in a male-dominated athletics department, she steered a steady course through these watershed moments, guided by her wisdom, tenacity and especially her patience. Arlene’s door was always open to students who came to her for mentoring or with ideas about new programs. During the 1970s, women’s varsity teams in tennis, ice hockey, crew, lacrosse, track and several others took flight under her supportive guidance. She also developed support structures that enabled women athletes at all levels to find their voices and to focus on the pure joy of competition. Finally, Arlene embraced her role as Professor. Through teaching courses such as Sports in American Society, which is still offered today (AMST 1600D), she inspired students to examine athletics through a scholarly lens.
In short, Arlene Gorton’s work in athletics was visionary and transformational. Arlene became a national figure and was recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators as their Division I Administrator of the Year in 1998. Upon her retirement in the same year, Arlene was described by sportswriter Bill Reynolds ’68 as “a constant who was the conscience of Brown Athletics.”
Arlene Gorton has been recognized at Brown through several awards, and she was inducted into the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame. What is missing, however, is recognition that publicly honors both her and her enduring contributions to women’s sports and the University.
Currently there are no athletic fields at Brown which are named for a woman — a glaring oversight. Existing fields are named in connection with a major gift or on an honorary basis. The most recent naming, which occurred in 2015, added recognition of retired women’s soccer and softball coach Phil Pincince to Stevenson Field. Ironically, it was Arlene Gorton who hired Pincince to coach in 1977.
Arlene Gorton both played and coached softball at Pembroke, and she elevated the sport to varsity status in 1975; it is only fitting that the softball field, which was completed in 2016, be named the Arlene E. Gorton ’52 Softball Field in her honor. Generations of Brown women would support and cheer such a decision, and future student-athletes would learn of Arlene’s commitment to women’s sports.
Next month, family and friends will gather in Manning Chapel to celebrate Arlene’s life and pay tribute to her extraordinary accomplishments. When we do so, it would be comforting to know that Brown will take the high road and name the softball field in Arlene Gorton’s honor.
Peter Mackie ’59 is a University sports archivist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.