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Celebrating Title IX: M. Nadine Zimmerman, Bedford County

By Chuck Abbott, 10/18/21, 10:15AM EDT


M. Nadine Zimmerman
Class of 2016

          With so little attention on women’s sports during the era, the accomplishments of Nadine Zimmerman may not have been appreciated at the time she played at R.P. Smith High School or Lock Haven State Teacher College as they are today.  Looking back at her career and accomplishments beyond her playing days, it becomes obvious that she was the first truly outstanding female athlete in Bedford County history and although nobody realized it at the time, was paving the path for female athletes in the future.
            “Girls Basketball was in its infancy and it was hard to judge at that time,” said RP Smith alumnus and sports historian Ron Housel.  But those that saw her knew they were watching something special.  In an era when girls basketball was played 6 on 6 and only 3 players allowed on each side of half court, and scores many times not getting out of the 30’s, Zimmerman scorched the nets at a 23.4 points per game pace during her senior year.  “I never saw anything like it at that particular time,” Housel noted.  In one game versus Everett in 1951, Zimmerman scored 60 points which would still be a Bedford County record if there was solid evidence.  With no scorebooks available and the local newspapers only covering the boys games at that time, all that is left is the memories of several local Smith alumni of her scoring spree that night.  There is record in the Bedford Gazette of January 11, 1951 in which Zimmerman scored 35 points in a 56-34 Smith victory over Saxton, but that was a rare report of a girls basketball score in that era.
            Zimmerman, who grew up on a farm recalls exactly how she became such a good basketball player.  “The boys played in our barn every weekend and I wanted to play too.  It was playing with and against those boys that developed me into the player that I was.”
            The All-American Redheads, a barnstorming professional women’s team, were so impressed that they offered Zimmerman a tryout.  She turned them down and went off to Lock Haven State Teachers College to major in Physical Education and took up another sport, Field Hockey.
            Under Coach Charlotte Smith at Lock Haven, Zimmerman thrived at the position of Left Inner forward and the Lady Bald Eagles were very successful during the fall of 1951-54 seasons.  The 1951 team was undefeated and they lost just once in each of Zimmerman’s other 3 seasons.  In the 1953 divisional tournament the Bald Eagles went 3-0, defeating Bucknell 2-1 for the title.  Zimmerman scored 4 of the 8 Lock Haven goals in the tourney.  During her field hockey career she was named she was named a Divisional, Central Pennsylvania, and Mid-East College All-Star.
            As she did at Smith HS, Nadine also excelled on the basketball court.  In 1953 Nadine sparked a thrilling comeback 47-45 win over Gettysburg by scoring a game high 27 points and scoring the winning points with under a minute to play.  That same year she scored 28 in a 52-40 victory over Lebanon Valley.
            When she graduated from Lock Haven in the Spring of 1955, Zimmerman had acquired 8 varsity letters in 2 sports.  Former longtime LHU Equipment manager Eugene Smith was asked when he retired to recall the greatest athletes of his era at the college. Smith pinpointed Nadine Zimmerman as one of the top two female athletes in his tenure at Lock Haven.
            During the 3 year period after her college graduation, Zimmerman moved on to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where she was a Physical Education Instructor and Coach.  She served as the Assistant Basketball Coach for the Ivy Leaguers for 3-seasons.  “One of the girls on our team was Elizabeth Kelly, sister of the famed Princess Grace,” Zimmerman recalled.  The Lady Quakers won the City Championship once in her 3 years at Penn.  She also coached Field Hockey and Lacrosse at the Ivy League school.

            From their she moved on to Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, IL where she spent the rest of her career as a Professor, Chairperson, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate  Dean of Education for 34 years until her retirement.  During her early years in DeKalb, Nadine resumed her field hockey career playing for the North Shore Hockey Club.
            It should be no surprise that she also excelled on the academic side.  She was the Smith HS Class of 1951 Valedictorian.  “She stood out in everything she did,” Housel recalled.  “She was well liked and an outstanding student as well as athlete.”
            In addition to her duties at NIU, Zimmerman found time to acquire a Ph. D from the University of Wisconsin in Motor Learning and Psychology in 1970.  She published numerous research reports and journal articles on Kinesiology and Physical Education. 
            Just as she was a pioneer in Bedford County women’s athletic circles, when Title IX came along Zimmerman was there as a chief proponent and national figure in the movement.  She served on several committees that were involved in writing rules for the evolution of modern women’s athletics during the Title IX era.   She served as the national rules chairperson for the Division of Girls and Women’s Sports from 1974-1976 when massive changes were taking place in women’s athletics.
            Nadine Zimmerman’s accomplishments as an athlete and contributor to Physical Education and the Women’s Sports movement have not gone unnoticed.  She has made a profound mark at R.P. Smith High School, Lock Haven University, and Northern Illinois University in a variety of ways.  “She is a legend at Robert P. Smith HS” Housel concluded.