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Former Shorewood athlete left her mark on women's athletics

July 7, 2009

After the equality-creating Title IX was passed in the early 1970s, retired Shorewood physical education instructor Jean Doherty said that it was "great fun" to be involved in women's sports.

Opportunities became available, she said, and people marched through doors that had been previously locked.

One of the people that quickly punched a hole through the glass ceiling, Doherty said, was the late Northeast (Collegiate) Conference administrator Brenda Weare, who probably was the first female athlete at Shorewood to earn 12 letters.

"She was a fantastic athlete," Doherty said. "Volleyball, track, basketball. She was also smart and always knew what to do in tight situations. A good student with a lot of drive."

Weare, 51, who went on to letter three times in volleyball at the University of Wisconsin, passed away last month after a long fight with synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer of the soft tissue.

According to information found on the UWBadgers.com Web site, Weare was not one to waste time. The 5-foot 4-inch setter/outside hitter helped Wisconsin win three Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Conference (WIAC) titles (that was before the women formally took part in Big 10 competition) and led them to three appearances in the Midwestern Regional of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championships.

The AIAW was a national organization for women's athletics before the NCAA got formally involved in the early 1980s.

But Weare didn't stop competing after her athletic days were through. She earned a master's from the University of Iowa in 1984 and began a distinguished career in collegiate athletic administration.

She started at Mundelein (Chicago) College where she served as athletic director and volleyball coach and then moved on to the NCAA main office, where she helped draft Division I certification legislation. She also worked for the Midwest Conference and Conference USA (where she served as an interim director for several months in 2002) and also served on various NCAA leadership, management, certification and rules interpretation committees.

In 2006, Weare was named commissioner of the Northeast Conference, a series of smaller schools located in New England. It was in May of that year that she was diagnosed with cancer. She told the New York Post that her work helped keep her going.

And it did. She wasted no time in implementing a league-wide sportsmanship policy and launched a series of new-media initiatives. In her time, the conference added bowling and lacrosse to its schedule and worked to get more exposure throughout the region with the help of major media entities.

She also helped the conference gain an automatic bid to the Division I football championships starting next year and aided in the addition of Bryant as the league's 12th member.

Weare did all this while fighting a difficult battle that may have taken her hair and her strength but not her sense of humor or optimism.

In the New York Post profile of her, she was shown holding a basketball and a volleyball, with various other athletic implements around her. Her hair was short but apparently growing (after treatment), and her smile was a mile wide.

"I'm going to have to start shaving my legs again," she said, obviously laughing.

No doubt she did before the cancer returned to claim her life. The accolades poured in following her passing. On the NCAA.org Web site, St. Francis Athletic Director Bob Krimmel said: "Brenda Weare was an outstanding leader possessing the passion, integrity and knowledge that empowered all who worked with her.

"Her spirit will forever be a part of the Northeast Conference."

Before she passed, the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators honored Weare with its first Award of Distinction.

Doherty will miss the spunky girl who proved to be a great trendsetter for other women.

"Times were really changing back then," she said, "and Brenda was one who really took the bull by the horns. A very nice person who was such a hard worker."

At a glance

WHAT: Memorials for the late Shorewood resident and longtime collegiate administrator Brenda Weare.

HOW TO CONTRIBUTE: People can send memorials to either the Cycle For Survival-Weare Fighting Cancer program located at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 633 Third Avenue, 28th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017, or to the Brenda Weare NACWAA Leadership Scholarship Fund, c/o of the NACWAA National Office, 5018 Randall Parkway, Suite 3, Wilmington, N.C. 28403.

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