After becoming one of the best field hockey players in the United States, Julie Staver of Penn was the captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which was denied a chance. She made up for it four years later.
When Julie Staver started at Penn in 1970, she wouldn't have been eligible for the Julie Staver Award, given since 1982 to the best two-sport senior woman at Penn, because women's sports were not even accorded varsity status until well into her college career.
In high school Staver didn't have a hard time deciding what to play, as field hockey and basketball were the only sports offered to girls in the late 1960s at rural Lower Dauphin High School in Pennsylvania.
Taking her brother's advice to try a school in an urban environment Staver went to Penn, sight unseen, in 1970. There she played field hockey and learned to play lacrosse. At the beginning of her second year, legendary coach Ann Sage arrived, "She was a great influence," says Staver. "She taught us group dynamics and team tactics, so we played together as a team. It seems simple but it's hard to do."
The field hockey team played what Staver describes as a "Philly schedule, not an Ivy schedule." Penn's most memorable foes in those days were local colleges. "We used to play West Chester University and Ursinus," she remembers. "They were the best teams around. They trained a lot of physical education teachers and great coaches, so they had great teams. Now the dynamic has changed because of Division I programs."
The Philly schedule was a tough one, and Staver found it helped her grow as a player. "Some of those teams really beat us up. It was a valuable lesson." Another favorite Penn memory is finally playing Princeton her senior year. The game was played at Franklin field, as were all home games that year. Until then they played at Hill Field, which she remembers as being in poor shape. Staver remembers how excited opponents were to play at Franklin Field.
Staver played on the national field hockey team from 1973 to 1984, with a year off in 1981-82, and was on the national lacrosse team in the mid 1970s. She was an All-America selection for field hockey in 1973 and for lacrosse in 1973 and 1974. At Penn she won the prestigious Father's Award in 1974. Staver was on two Olympic field hockey teams - captain of the 1980 team, favored to medal in the boycotted Olympics, and co-captain of the bronze medal-winning 1984 team.
As captain of the 1980 team Staver remembers "I was at the meeting in Colorado Springs when the USOC decided not to go. I was the representative for my sport. There was tremendous pressure from the State Department. 'Either you don't go or we won't send you' was the message we received. There are so many people in so many sports that didn't get to play [until the 1984 Games]."
The field hockey team knew that in 1984 "the fact that the Olympics were in L.A. meant that we were guaranteed a berth. But we really thought we could win a medal in 1980."
Staver describes the 1984 Olympics as "the best athletic experience of my life." Six teams entered, and with a round-robin tournament there was no actual gold-medal game. The Netherlands won gold and Germany silver, but the last game played was between the Netherlands and Australia, and the result caused a dead heat between the U.S. and Australia for third place.
The U.S. team was in the stands when they realized what was happening. "We watched the game. We went and put on our gear near the end in case we had to do penalty strokes. We won on penalty strokes for the bronze," she remembers. "It's not physically the medal that's important. It's the winning — the experience."
Majoring in anthropology Staver readily combined athletics and academics. In her words, "there are a lot of hours in the day. And the demands weren't like they are now, so it was no problem."
After graduation Staver became Ann Sage's assistant coach and was as an assistant athletic director. She started looking for a head coaching position, but a train delay on the way to her first interview gave her a chance to reconsider. Staver wound up at Penn Veterinary School instead.
Upon veterinary school graduation in 1982 she found a part time position and started training for the Olympics. Staver is grateful to Penn for allowing her the flexibility to pursue sports and study at the same time.
Today, Staver practices veterinary medicine in Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband and daughter on 50 acres with a small flock of sheep, and occasionally comes into Philadelphia to see Penn sports.
Looking back she realizes that she played sports at an interesting time. "Women's athletics were not important at Penn when I got there, at any level," she says. "Then Title IX came into play and things just started to happen before I left."
There's one thing she'd like to change, though. "I'm delighted I have a medal, but I'm still annoyed. I could have done something and we could have won that silver."
— Suzanne Eschenbach