Well before the introduction of Title IX in 1972, which was the cornerstone of providing fairness and equity in amateur sports, female physical education instructors saw themselves as knowledgeable authority figures for their students. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this influential group of women took control of providing physical education programs in a higher education setting. It was their mission to offer a balance between the rigors of intellectual endeavors with healthy and appropriate sporting activities.
At Thornton Academy, the effort to provide an athletic outlet for girls was spearheaded by a woman named Louise Leib. Ms. Leib was the first physical education instructor for girls at TA. Initially, in 1893, Ms. Leib organized a squad of gymnasts who held a gymnastic drill display at Saco City Hall. Participants performed various exercises with dumbbells, clubs and wands as they displayed movements on the stage while school fight songs played in the background. The organization of this activity by the school’s girls was just the beginning of Ms. Leib’s leadership.
In the 1890s, basketball was the most popular team sport in education programs and the country’s fastest-growing sport for women. Following on the heels of the first public basketball game by the boys, the formation of the TA Girls Basketball Association happened in the fall of 1897. Twenty-six girls came out to play for Coach Louise Leib. Initially, games were played between classes, but by 1903, girls began to play other local schools. The first two games were a rough start. The team experienced a loss to Westbrook Seminary by a score of 35-7 and then a 27-2 loss to Portland. Steadily, though, the program improved. In 1905, the squad enjoyed a six-game winning streak, and the 1906 team was crowned unofficial state champs after it bested Portland in a rematch held at Saco City Hall. Before a crowd of 300, in a game that was described by the Biddeford Journal as “one of the fastest games that was ever played,” TA prevailed with a score of 8-7. Louise Leib was a pioneer for girls athletics. Her leadership and foresight set the stage for decades of girls athletic success here at Thornton Academy.