Women's athletics pioneer Marty Adams passes

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics mourns the passing of one of the pioneers of its women’s athletics program, Martha (Marty) Adams, who died on Jan. 12 in State College. She was 90.

Adams was among the handful of faculty and administrators instrumental in the creation and implementation of varsity women’s athletics at Penn State, along with Della Durant, Lucille (Lu) Magnusson, Bob Scannell and others. They helped establish Penn State at the forefront of women’s varsity athletics well before Title IX legislation in 1972.

"Marty was a true Penn State treasure," said Sandy Barbour, Penn State director of athletics. "We are saddened by her passing, but know that we've been positively impacted her legacy, and better for her professional contributions and personal friendships."

From Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Adams was a member of the Penn State staff from 1954 until her retirement in 1987, completing a distinguished career spanning nearly 35 years in teaching, coaching and athletic administration. She came to Penn State on a one-year appointment as the head of women's swimming, was retained and went on to serve in numerous roles retiring as the director of the Student-Athlete Advisory Center in 1987.

When Adams joined the Penn State staff in 1954, her duties as head of women’s swimming saw her instruct and coordinate activity programs for students. In 1959, she was named Penn State’s chairperson of women's physical education. It was during her tenure in this position that she and Durant worked with Penn State faculty to create a proposal to make nine women’s teams varsity sports. The proposal was approved by President Eric Walker, Ernie McCoy, the dean of Physical Education and director of Athletics, and Sam Wherry, NCAA faculty representative. The program, initially titled "Extramural Sports for Women" began in the fall of 1964 with field hockey, expanding to eight additional varsity sports within the next year.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Adams, the "Extramural Sports for Women" program soon evolved into the "Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Program." By the time Title IX legislation in 1972 began forcing most colleges and universities to begin varsity sports for women, Penn State already had 12 varsity women’s teams competing.

When the men's and women's physical education programs merged in 1973, Adams became assistant to the dean in the former College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. A year later, she became the assistant dean for undergraduate programs, a position she held until her retirement as professor emerita in 1987. During her career at Penn State, Adams was involved in numerous University-wide efforts including the University Faculty Senate in which she served a term as secretary as well as chair of several committees.

Adams was active in numerous professional associations including, the National Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the National Association for Physical Education for Women and the Eastern Association for Women, which included a term as president. In the latter, she also served as the chairperson for the Committee on Competition which through EAPECW was instrumental in the development of intercollegiate athletic programs in the East and eventually nationally under the auspices of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). Adams also served as program chair for two of the five National Institutes on Girls and Women's Sports which also fostered the development of the women's intercollegiate programs nationally.

Prior to arriving at Penn State, Adams taught at the Beard School in Orange, New Jersey and the University of Iowa. Adams graduated from Waynesboro (Pa.) High School. She then received her bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and her master's degree from Iowa in physical education.

Adams enjoyed attending Penn State athletic events well after her retirement, doing so as recently as Jan. 3, when the Lady Lion Basketball team defeated Iowa in the Bryce Jordan Center.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Penn State University, 1 Old Main, University Park, PA 16802 to be added to one of the following Martha A. Adams Endowments:

  • Morgan Academic Center;
  • Kinesiology Undergraduate Advising Center;
  • Undergraduate Advising Center in the College of Health and Human Development;
  • Endowed Program Fund for Women's Athletics;
  • Endowed Program Fund for Sports Medicine.

Graveside services will be held at the Green Hill Cemetery, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, at the convenience of the family.

Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome. com.

Comments from current and former Penn State administrators on Marty Adams:

"Marty Adams was a trailblazer who dedicated her career to inspiring girls and women in sport; a remarkable leader who helped to build a Penn State Women's Intercollegiate Athletics program that is recognized as one of the most successful programs in the country. She was an inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing her, and I will be forever grateful for the mentoring she provided me in my transition to Penn State. Marty will be greatly missed, but her good work and commitment to excellence will not be forgotten."
- Charmelle Green, Penn State senior associate AD and senior woman administrator

"Marty Adams was a pioneer in the development of Penn State's Intercollegiate Women's Sports program. She was instrumental in laying the groundwork for a program that would become nationally recognized and admired. Her contributions to and positions held in the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation were numerous and her mentorship was greatly appreciated by faculty and staff. Throughout the University community she will be sadly missed as a respected peer and colleague and for her ongoing support and love of Penn State."
- Sue Delaney-Scheetz, former Penn State associate AD and senior woman administrator

Information from Blue-White Illustrated was used in this story.

Last Updated January 18, 2017