From no team to tournament bids, these three fans have seen it all
When Marilynn Magoon was a student at Michigan, there was no women’s basketball team. It was the 1950s, and women couldn’t even enter the Michigan Union unless accompanied by a man.
Having a women’s basketball team was a pipe dream.
But that was nearly 70 years ago.
Now, Magoon and her friends, Betty Doman and Lynn Johnson, are diehard Michigan women’s basketball fans.
It’s not often you find a group of people that are diehard women’s college basketball fans. Much less a group of women who went to school when they could only play basketball at lunch time in their bloomers. And these three women might just be the biggest women’s basketball fans out there.
They haven’t always been. The trio didn’t become friends and start attending games together until the early 2000s. They had always been Michigan sports fans and were involved in various alumni clubs, wanting to get more involved in women’s sports. But since then, they’ve seen it all.
When they first became fans, Cheryl Burnett was coach and the team was a far cry from what it is today.
“I’m not kidding,” Doman said. “It was so sad. They were awful. I would plead that we can’t leave. We have to support them. The attendance was awful. The kids were really not doing well.”
They stuck through the next era with coach Kevin Borseth There were some improvements with the team, but it was still nothing like it is today.
“There wasn’t much excitement around the program at all,” Johnson said. “He didn’t reach out to fans.”
But everything changed with the arrival of current coach Kim Barnes Arico.
“When Kim arrived, that has been like opening the candy jar because she is phenomenal,” Doman said. “It’s just a caring group and they’ve done so much, and you can see what Kim has brought it. Look at the kids who come here. It’s unbelievable.”
Barnes Arico’s arrival sparked a new era for the program. She understood the importance of fans and understood how large of a role they played in the success of her team. She started having chalk talks where fans were invited to talk with the team. In these chalk talks, Johnson sees one of the program’s biggest changes. When the chalk talks began, Johnson and her friends really got to know the team because they were intimate gatherings with about 30 fans in attendance. In recent years, it’s become more difficult for them to get to know the team, with chalk talks now drawing crowds of over 100 fans.
“But that’s a good thing,” Johnson said.
The women have seen a lot of changes since they were all students at Michigan in the 1950s. During their time as students, softball was one of the only women’s sports. As freshman, it was required for them to participate in a sport such as golf or field hockey. Yet, there was still no women’s basketball.
Thanks in large part to Title IX, women’s sports have grown immensely in popularity. However, the attendance still pales in comparison to that of their male counterparts. The three are incredibly devoted, but they still question why that interest hasn’t carried over to the students.
“You have the Maize Rage (at the men’s games) that is hundreds of students,” Doman said. “How many of them come to the women’s games? I think I saw four last year. They just don’t get the recognition.”
Doman recalls at one point students trying to start a fan group for the women’s team like the Maize Rage, but it never gained much traction.
Regardless if they are the only fans there, the three still go to every game possible. They meet at their seats each game and enjoy the games together. They try to bring more of their friends to games to introduce them to basketball and the team. Their seats are so good that they practically think they are sitting on the floor.
“You get to know them, and they work so hard,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing to see the progress.”
For the women, it’s not even about the game sometimes.
“It’s the camaraderie of it,” Doman said. “You can’t put an adjective on it. It’s just a very warm experience.”
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