She has never been the kind of person to take 'no' for an answer. That's why former Yale field hockey player Lawrie Mifflin was ground-breaking as both an athlete and a journalist.
"I'm kind of a persistent person." Lawrie Mifflin's self-description pretty much fits every phase of her life, a life that has brought positive change to every institution with which she has come in contact.
Mifflin played field hockey while growing up in Swarthmore, Pa., and just assumed she could play when accepted into Yale's first class of women undergraduates in 1969. But Yale didn't have a team.
"I just wanted to play," says Mifflin. "If we're students then Yale should have a team."
So she went in to the athletic department. "I told them I wanted to play hockey (around Philadelphia field hockey is simply called hockey, according to Mifflin). They looked at me like I was a Martian."
Mifflin quickly explained that she meant field hockey, and Yale allowed her to form a club team.
Not that it meant much. "We didn't have a budget, and had to use our own equipment. We started out knocking the ball around Old Campus Quad," Yale then provided a practice field, of sorts.
"Parking lot A," remembers Mifflin. "We'd spend Mondays picking up cans and charcoal," apparently from the tailgating going on before the football game the Saturday before.
That first year the team only practiced. After freshman year "Jane Curtis and I composed letters to all the schools within driving distance. We got letters back scheduling scrimmages with schools like Connecticut College and Albertus Magnus (a local New Haven college)."
Yale also provided equipment that year. But no uniforms.
Those had to wait for another year.
"My junior year we were playing almost like a varsity sport. We got to use a proper field, at least for games." They also played a road game at Princeton. At the time "we were wearing cut-off blue jeans and Yale tee-shirts as a our uniform." Princeton had regular field hockey uniforms.
Yale's solution? They borrowed "the field hockey uniforms from the U of Southern Connecticut's team (the kilts were blue) for us to wear at Princeton," according to Mifflin.
That wasn't the only unusual aspect of this trip. Mifflin remembers "when we got there, the university had arranged to lodge us in two eating clubs (eating clubs are a unique Princeton institution, where many students take their meals), both of which had parties going on the night before the Saturday game. One half of our team was in an attic room with no locks on the doors, and we were visited several times in the middle of the night by Princeton guys who thought it was funny that the Yale field hockey team was in their house."
"We lost by one goal the next day, and I will always believe fatigue had much to do with it," she says ruefully.
At the end of the season the team elected Mifflin and Sandy Morse '74 co-captains. Then Yale granted the team varsity status, making it one of Yale's first three varsity women's teams. Yet even this created a problem.
"Yale said no co-captains. I said that's not right," recalls Mifflin. The result was what is believed to be Yale's first set of co-captains, with Mifflin and Morse taking their places on the traditional "captains' fence" for their photo.
The granting of varsity status also gave Mifflin a foretaste of her future career. She had volunteered to cover the team for the Yale Daily News in 1970 but was refused, because the paper covered only varsity sports. "When we became a varsity sport (along with tennis and squash) before my senior year, I returned to the Daily News and they agreed, grudgingly, to cover us, but said they had no one on staff who knew anything about 'women's sports,'" recalls Mifflin.
So she covered them. "This helped me decide to apply to grad school in journalism," she remembers, and Mifflin moved on to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism after receiving her B.A. magna cum laude in 1973.
After receiving a masters degree in journalism in 1974 Mifflin became one of the nation's first woman sportswriters, at the New York Daily News, in 1976. She covered the 1976 Montreal Olympics, then became the beat reporter for the NHL New York Rangers,
"There was harassment," Mifflin remembers, "because it was a new thing." It was particularly bad with opposing teams. After one game, while interviewing a player in the Vancouver Canucks' locker room, David "Tiger" Williams, a Canucks "enforcer," approached. Yelling obscenities he "grabbed me by the arms, turned me around, and marched me from the locker room," according to Mifflin.
"I reported it to the league but nothing was done." But "gradually the teams came around."
Mifflin moved to the New York Times in 1982. Between her stints at the Daily News and Times she covered three Summer Olympics, the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics (where she covered the famous U.S. Hockey triumph over the Soviet Union), as well as two World Cup soccer tournaments.
In 1990 Mifflin left sports to become an editor on the national desk. In 1993 she founded the work-life services office at the Times, serving as its director until March 1995. She then went back to reporting, covering television and other media until 1999.
In 1999 she left reporting again to join the New York Times television enterprises division, where she now is the Executive Director of Television and Video.
"We do all the video on the New York Times web site," explains Mifflin, "as well as documentaries and other projects." These 'other projects' include documentaries that have won two Emmys and a Peabody award, as well as numerous other awards.
Lawrie Mifflin won the prestigious NCAA Silver Anniversary Award in 1998, awarded to former student athletes who have excelled in their fields 25 years after college.
One can assume the NCAA gave Mifflin the award because she is a pioneer. But of what? She founded Yale's field hockey team, was one of the nation's first woman sportswriters, founded the Times work-life office, and currently heads the group that melds print and video for the Times -- definitely a cutting edge area.
Mifflin's explanation? "I like to try new things."
— Stephen Eschenbach