’70s Coaches & Players Established Strong Foundation for Girls’ Athletic Program

’70s Coaches & Players Established Strong Foundation for Girls’ Athletic Program
Blair Academy

Blair’s girls’ athletic program began in the 1970-1971 school year and quickly became competitive against top opponents. Within that first decade, five Buccaneer girls’ teams won New Jersey prep state championships, including skiing (1975), field hockey (1976), track (1978), softball (1978, 1979) and basketball (1979). The rise of Blair’s girls’ athletic program was meteoric, to say the least.

Youth sparked the program as female enrollment accelerated, resulting in more freshman girls participating in sport. Blair started the fall of 1970 with 26 day girls. The following year, 43 girls enrolled as boarding students. In 1972, there were 72 total girls at Blair. This led to girls’ teams having many freshmen in the program, allowing years to develop skills and team culture.

It is a difficult feat for any coach to develop a strong team on the field of play. But throughout the early and mid-’70s, these freshmen developed into competitive athletes under the guidance of legendary Blair teacher, coach and Athletic Hall of Fame member Jan Hutchinson, the founder of Blair’s girls’ athletic program. Valerie Ross ’78 wrote in a 1977-1978 issue of The Blair Breeze that Coach Hutchinson was “always the same, smiling, willing to help any and everyone, and always ready for the long hard work-out in any sport.” 

Coming to Blair in 1971, Coach Hutchinson was the first head coach of the School’s field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball teams. Both field hockey and girls’ basketball were established in the 1971-1972 school year and posted below-average inaugural seasons. But in just a few years, both programs achieved winning overall records and contended for state titles. In the 1976-1977 school year, field hockey went 12-1-2 and girls’ basketball finished with an 8-5 record. Softball recorded a 6-2 record in the 1973-1974 school year. Under Coach Hutchinson’s leadership, Blair quickly grabbed its first state championships in field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball in less than 10 years. 

Blair Academy Athletic Hall of Fame member Laura (Cochran) Morris ’75 captained the field hockey (1974, 1975), girls’ basketball (1974, 1975) and softball (1975) teams and earned 12 varsity letters during her four-year Blair athletic career. She is the only female athlete to ever win Blair’s Robert Dalling Prize as the School’s overall top athlete. In 1976, the School established the William Zester Memorial Award for the top female athlete and designated the Robert Dalling Prize for the top male athlete. The first girl to win the William Zester Memorial Award was Janet (Jones) Harrington ’76, who captained the field hockey, basketball and softball teams as a senior and won eight Blair varsity letters. She and Trustee Anne Cramer ’75, a varsity skier, field hockey tri-captain and softball player, are both members of Blair’s Athletic Hall of Fame and products of Coach Hutchinson’s expert coaching.

Blair’s Dean of Campus Life and director of leadership programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79 played on Coach Hutchinson’s field hockey and softball teams. Currently, she is head softball coach, a role she has held for more than 25 years. She has led the Lady Bucs to numerous Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and state championships, including back-to-back MAPL and state titles in 2018 and 2019.

“It was an amazing time to play organized sports, just like boys did,” said Mrs. Conforti-Browse of her athletic career as a Blair student. “I fell in love with field hockey under Coach Hutchinson, and our team was super strong. All the other teams came to many of our games to support us.” 

The legacy of determination, hard work and success established by the 1970s girls’ teams lives on today at Blair. Current girls’ programs have won multiple MAPL and New Jersey prep “A” championships. Furthermore, Blair has expanded offerings for female athletes over the years to now include golf, crew, volleyball, tennis, soccer, swimming, wrestling, indoor track, cross country and lacrosse. Since coeducation at Blair started, girls’ athletic programs have continued to grow and excel, on and off the field.