Gunderson receives the MN National Girls and Women in Sports Day Legacy Award

Belmar Gunderson, PhD

Dr. Belmar Gunderson, a former faculty member in the School of Kinesiology and often referred to as “the mother of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Minnesota,” will be receiving the prestigious 2020 Legacy Award at the 34th Annual Minnesota National Girls and Women in Sports Day on February 5, 2020, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. 

Dr. Gunderson came to the U of M in 1962 as a faculty member and coach in the Department of Physical Education for Women (now the School of Kinesiology) and in 1975 became the first Director of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics, before the men’s and women’s programs merged. 

While teaching in the Department of Physical Education for Women at the U of M, Dr. Gunderson also served as the coordinator for the Women’s Intramural – Extramural Sports Program (previously the Women’s Intramural Program) and coached tennis, basketball, badminton, and field hockey. There were very limited opportunities for female athletes in this pre-Title IX era and Dr. Gunderson recalls that at the time the budget for women’s sports clubs was “$5.76.” In 1971, the first year the U of M funded women’s sports programs, the budget was raised to $5,000—the same amount held in the shoe budget for the football coaches. Thanks to Dr. Gunderson’s advocacy, that budget increased to $10,000 during the 1972–73 academic year. When Gunderson left the U of M in 1979 the women’s intercollegiate athletics budget had grown to $330,000.

Dr. Gunderson is credited with initiating 10 women’s varsity sports during her 17-year tenure and hiring the legendary Jean Freeman as the U of M’s Women’s Swimming and Diving Head Coach. Among her many accomplishments, in 1975 Dr. Gunderson and former School of Kinesiology Director Dr. Eloise Jaeger, initiated the Patty Berg Fund – the first scholarship in women’s athletics. Over her career, Gunderson served on many educational and sports committees for the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the Division of  Girls and Women’s Sports (DGWS) and later the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). 

Before arriving in Minnesota, Dr. Gunderson received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1956 and her master’s degree from Penn State in 1962. While teaching at the U of M Gunderson earned her doctorate from Texas Woman’s University in 1971. Gunderson was a top-ranked tennis player in the U.S., reaching a No. 11 ranking in singles and competing at Wimbledon four times and in the U.S. Nationals for 10 years. She won the Canadian Doubles Championship, and singles and doubles championships at the Swedish Championship and the Frankfurt International Championship. In 1961, Dr. Gunderson defeated Wimbledon champion Maria Bueno at the Orange Lawn Tennis Championships. Since that time, Gunderson has won USTA national titles in the 55, 60, 65 and 70 age groups, and eight International Tennis Federation (ITF) World Doubles titles. She has been inducted into the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Minnesota, Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) and USTA Northern Section halls of fame. In 2011 Dr. Gunderson received the USTA’s Service Bowl Award, an award also given to Billie Jean King and Chris Evert.

Dr. Gunderson is a current resident of River Falls, WI, where she raises horses. She winters in Florida where she continues to play competitive tennis.

The 34th Annual Minnesota National Girls and Women in Sports Day is free and open to the public, we invite you to attend and see Dr. Gunderson receive her Legacy Award.