Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Marian noticeably absent


Over the weekend, while celebrating 40 years of women in sports at Kansas University, a woman named Marlene Mawson was introduced as the “Mother of KU Women’s Athletics.”

Marlene who?

In an official sense, Mawson did indeed give birth to KU’s women’s program because she was a KU physical-education instructor back in the late 1960s when the school launched a rudimentary distaff sports program.

And yet Mawson — and I don’t want to sound disrespectful because she is a fine woman with a splendid résumé — is hardly the person most closely associated with KU women’s athletics.

If Mawson is the birth mother, then Marian Washington is the foster mother because it was Washington who nurtured women’s athletics — for a few years as athletic director and for more than 30 years as women’s basketball coach.

At halftime of Saturday’s Kansas-Nebraska women’s basketball game, scores of former KU women athletes and coaches paraded onto the floor and were recognized.

Washington wasn’t among them.

When I asked a KU official why Washington wasn’t there, I was told she had sent a letter saying she wouldn’t be there, that she was back East with her family. Washington’s daughter, Josie, lives in the Philadelphia area and has two children.

I can understand Washington wanting to visit her grandchildren. Heck, I have grandchildren back East myself. At the same time, however, you have to wonder if Washington was using her grandchildren as an excuse, given the fact she hasn’t shown her face in Allen Fieldhouse in five years.

In late January of 2004, Washington announced she was taking a leave of absence to deal with unspecified, non-life-threatening health problems. About a month later, she stepped down, saying she could not continue to coach and deal with those health issues.

In the five years since her retirement, Washington has continued to live in Lawrence, where she has been like a stealth fighter on a radar screen. Not that Washington ever maintained a high profile, even during her KU years. She always spelled privacy with a capital P.

Washington, now 62, received a severance package worth approximately $156,000 the year after she retired, but we know that only because the Journal-World obtained that info under the open-records act.

Since then, Washington’s name has rarely come up in public. She never has attended a KU women’s game. Moreover, she has never even met Bonnie Henrickson, her successor.

Meanwhile, as part of the 40-year celebration, KU athletic department officials announced they had established the Marlene Mawson Female Athlete of the Year Award and revealed track’s SháRay Butler as the first winner.

I have to tell you that when the announcement was made, it occurred to me — and again no disrespect to Mawson — the award could just as easily been named after Washington.

Then again, they don’t immortalize phantoms. They don’t issue APBs when the welcome mat is already out. So it’s all up to Washington.

“Maybe,” someone remarked on press row, “she’ll show up for the 50th anniversary.”


lonestarjayhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

This is very disappointing. As a fan of Kansas Athletics I have to beleive she would want to embrace the history and all she accompolished on and off the court. One wonders if there is another underlying issue. As a former college coach I know that departing a program you have put your heart and soul into is tough. Going back that first time is even tougher. Someone needs to talk to Marion about embracing the past and all the good she did at the University!

Omegatron 10 years, 10 months ago

Until she speaks in public, there is no way of knowing what the issue is with her not showing up.

All we can do is speculate.

JayhawkPhil64 10 years, 10 months ago

Even if she didn't want to show up she should have been acknowledged during the festivities as the most important contributor to Womens Basketball in the history of the sport at KU. Granted, she couldn't make the transition when the sport evolved but she made a hell of a lot bigger contribution than this other lady.

Jayhawk1116 10 years, 10 months ago

I seriously doubt she had health issues. Lew forced her out, but didn't want to fire her. It was a way for everyone to save face. She wasn't happy about it. End of story.

Omegatron 10 years, 10 months ago

"Over the weekend, while celebrating 40 years of women in sports at Kansas University, a woman named Marlene Mawson was introduced as the “Mother of KU Women’s Athletics.”"

Over the weekend... Today is Tuesday. Way to be on top the local news!

Will we get a follow up story? Or will that put the paper over budget?

JayhawkPhil64 10 years, 10 months ago

jwliddell, I totally agree with your position although there are others that are a lot worse than Omegatron. Maybe if more of us jump on them, they won't think it is so cute.

Funny story, I jumped on some dipstick the other day for nitpicking an article saying I was sick of all the bozo's looking for typos or errors in grammer. Then he sent back a note to say an apostophe was not needed in bozos and I miss-spelled grammar. Of course I felt like an idiot. It's no wonder it took me two semesters to get through English Comp I. That was over 40 years ago and I would still like to kick the crap out of all those graduate asst nerds who used to spread red ink all over my papers.

I'm sure there is a grammarical error in here somewhere.

Omegatron 10 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

FlaHawk 10 years, 10 months ago


I partially disagree with post. Marian Washington was over-the-hill the lst three years or so of her coaching career. SHe had to go and Lew ws new and had to make a hard decision and he made up something to COach Marian out of the way. I have no problem with that.

What I have a problem with and totally agree is that Coach Bonnie was Lew's worst mistake to date at KU. Not only has seee not won, but got a big salary boost a couple of years ago to beyond $500K a year.

Coach Marian had to go, but Lew blew it when he hired Coach Bonnie. I am sure Lew would do it differently, if he had a "do over".

I am sure that Coach Bonnie must have a enormous buy out bonus and this might be why Lew has not corrected his mistake yet.


sevenyearhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who noticed Coach Washington's absence ...

I had no idea who that person was that they introduced, and I thought I was hearing things when they said “Mother of KU Women’s Athletics”

We can only speculate ...

Ryan Wood 10 years, 10 months ago

Say what you want, but to say that the program has gotten worse since Marian left is laughable. It's not a ton better, but it sure as hell isn't worse.

I went to several games in 2001-02, when KU went 0-16 in the Big 12 with maybe one close game. The talent level on that team was embarrassing. I've never seen anything quite like it. As soon as the game started, it was over. They were absolutely terrible.

Good trivia: KU women went 0-16 in the league that year. The KU men went 16-0.

Ryan Wood 10 years, 10 months ago

Now, having ripped Marian's dud '02 season, I will say that I greatly appreciate what she did for the university. She was a pioneer in women's sports and deserves to be honored post-retirement for all that she did. It's just strange to me that she wants no part of it.

kustretch 10 years, 10 months ago

I think HowMuchRice hit it right on the head! I mean no disrespect to Marian and the contributions she made during her long tenure at KU, but the game progressed beyond her abilities to coach....again, no disrespect. That final team was totally out of control! Marian established NO discipline with those players on the court or off. If you recall, one of the first things Coach Henrickson had to do was separate several of the Marian recruits/players from the team....oh sure, in the media, it appeared that there was some mutual decision for some players to go their separate way, but make no mistake about it, Coach Henrickson had to come in and put her foot down on some of those players. It was time for a it what you will, "Lew forcing her out", or the health was time.

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