Shawn Ladda reflects on being a pioneer of women's soccer

Dr. Shawn Ladda has lots of soccer memorabilia in her Manhattan College office. The professor of kinesiology was the head coach of Columbia women's soccer from 1988 to 1994. Her own soccer career began at Penn State University.

"I saw a flyer up, 'Try out for the women's soccer team.' I always liked soccer," Ladda said. "I never was on a girls' team. I only played on a boy's club team in Pennsylvania. I went to try out and I made the team."

At the time, women's soccer was a club sport in Happy Valley. By Ladda joining the team in 1979, she would change the course of history at Penn State.

"When we went to that EAIAW Regional, I think at least half the teams were varsity," Ladda said. "We thought, 'We're competing with these teams. There's no reason why we shouldn't be varsity, too.'"

The AIAW oversaw women's athletics before the NCAA. The Penn State women needed verification. They followed compliance to play in a postseason tournament. But in 1981, the Penn State athletic director, Joe Paterno, would not sign the paperwork.

"He basically said, 'You know what? I have nothing against soccer. My grandkids play soccer.' But I think he really saw that the next step was we were going to ask for varsity status," Ladda said. "And, I don't know, maybe he thought, 'We need to not be so supportive.'"

So Ladda and some of her teammates filed a Title IX lawsuit against Penn State. 

"Basically, it got mucked up in the courts because there's a lot of procedures that happen," Ladda said. "Obviously, Penn State wasn't happy about it."

She said that the lawsuit was stuck in the courts for about 10 years.

Finally, in 1993, Penn State announced it would have a varsity team starting in the 1994 fall season. Ladda had paved the way.

And in 2015, Penn State women's soccer won the national championship.

But what about Ladda's team?

"I think over the years, my teammates and I talked about how we really should have been varsity," Ladda said.

And in 2018, under current head coach Erica Dambach, the players were finally recognized and received honorary varsity letters at the 25th anniversary of Penn State women's soccer.

"This would be a great connection for the current players to learn the history and to award the, I said the pioneers, varsity letters," Ladda said. "Girls and women do have more opportunities today than in the '70s, but definitely we have a ways to go."