‘There’s No Downside To This’: Char Morett-Curtiss Leading Charge Toward Female Athletic Opportunities
Penn State looked quite different in 1975 than it does today. Dr. John W. Oswald was the president of the university. The Berkey Creamery was located in the Borland Laboratory. Beaver Stadium’s capacity was 57,723. One thing, though, was the same. Char Morett-Curtiss was on campus.
Morett-Curtiss arrived in Happy Valley in 1975 in pursuit of a physical education degree and accolades in her two collegiate varsity sports: field hockey and lacrosse.
The Aldan, Pennsylvania, native was quickly named a three-time first-team All-American in field hockey and All-American national champion lacrosse player.
After immense success as a student-athlete, two-time U.S. Lacrosse Olympian, and Congressional Gold Medal recipient, Morett-Curtiss permanently returned to State College in 1987 to coach the sport she loved most.
Morett-Curtiss took over the field hockey program and led it for 36 years, highlighted by 541 victories, eight Big Ten regular-season titles, seven Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, 30 NCAA Tournament appearances, six Final Fours, and so much more.
Still, just one thing was missing through Morett-Curtiss’ 48 years in and around Happy Valley: an initiative dedicated solely to female student-athletes.
Three years prior to announcing her retirement, Morett-Curtiss began workshopping the idea of a program created by Penn State female student-athletes for Penn State female student-athletes.
“It was a vision that I had three years ago, but I knew that I was busy coaching [and] working on raising money for our stadium project, and I knew this is something that hopefully is in my future,” Morett-Curtiss said. “When I did announce my retirement to Pat [Kraft], he was all about me starting this women’s athletics initiative, which I was extremely grateful for.”
So Morett-Curtiss began the process of announcing her retirement, stepping away from the program, leaving it in the capable hands of Lisa Bervinchak Love, and founding what Penn Staters now know as Teammates for Life.
The initiative will garner support for Penn State’s 14 female athletic teams at home and away matches, host networking events, match female student-athletes with athletic and career-specific alumnae mentors, and more.
Despite dedicating nearly half of her life to coaching Penn State field hockey, the decision to leave the program and enter retirement was eased by Morett-Curtiss’ trajectory into Penn State Athletics as an advisor and Happy Valley pillar.
“It’s very, very satisfying for me as well because it was hard to step away from the team,” Morett-Curtiss said. “When I talked to them and I was teary, I said, ‘Look, you’re still going to see me. I’m not going anywhere.’ That has reassured me that it was the right time and right decision.”
Morett-Curtiss began cultivating Teammates for Life’s advisory board chock full of accomplished women in the business and athletic industries. Maribeth Roman Schmidt, Morett-Curtiss’ “right and left arm,” was key to the development of the initiative from a business and Penn State perspective.
Schmidt served as Vault Communications’ founder, president, and CEO over the course of six years before transitioning to the chair of the board of directors for Variety: the Children’s Charity of Philadelphia.
With the leadership of Morett-Curtiss and the expertise of Schmidt, the duo constructed an advisory board of immensely successful women from former Penn State student-athletes to a former Starbucks vice president to current Penn State Athletics administrators.
“As a head coach, it’s really important that you surround yourself with others who have a different skill set than what you have,” Morett-Curtiss said. “It’s most important that they can match my passion, and that’s what they all do.”
From there, the plan was in motion, and Morett-Curtiss began brainstorming names for the initiative. After a few ideas that just didn’t stick, Morett-Curtiss was on a Zoom call with Penn State women’s soccer coach Erica Dambach, who pitched the name “Teammates for Life,” and Morett-Curtiss knew that was the one.
The official launch of the initiative took place on August 31, but Teammates for Life had been in the works for much longer.
“I would describe [Teammates for Life] as a powerful community of confident, accomplished women that are looking to bond together to create relationships between our current student-athletes, our alumni base, and our alumni athletic base,” Morett-Curtiss said.
Events begin as early as this week, and Schmidt is leading a support squad of Northern New Jersey alumni to watch Penn State women’s soccer’s matchup with Rutgers in Piscataway on Thursday, September 21. Teammates for Life will host a handful of similar events for the women’s hockey and field hockey teams throughout the fall while continuing to organize other events and outings.
Morett-Curtiss and the advisory board are also in the process of creating a mentorship program among Penn State female student-athletes and alumni. Because of the university’s vast alumni network, Teammates for Life will match student-athletes with female mentors within their sport or career path.
Rather than leave it up to female student-athletes to connect with successful Penn State alumnae during job searches or post-grad, the initiative speeds up the process of establishing life-long relationships among women.
“We always say ‘Penn Staters are everywhere and they’re everything.’ They’re the doctors. They’re the lawyers. They’re the sports journalists. They’re the teachers,” Morett-Curtiss said. “There are so many different professions that we want to engage them and use their experiences to help our current student-athletes now.”
Teammates for Life is helping female student-athletes experience the “lifetime journey” of Penn State, rather than just a four-year stint in Happy Valley.
As a female student-athlete herself, Morett-Curtiss understands the impact of a collective created for players just like her who can benefit from its support in ways she had to forge individually.
Moreover, she wants to give back to the university that invested so much in her as a student, athlete, coach, and person.
“I get teary. This is my second opportunity that Penn State has given me,” Morett-Curtiss said. “When I look back at everything that Penn State has done for me, brought me here on a scholarship in 1975, hired me back to run the field hockey program, and now to have this initiative in my hands and to bring other women into this powerful movement that we’re starting, I’m so grateful.”
“I always remember when I first talked to Maribeth [Roman Schmidt],” Morett-Curtiss recalled. “She said, ‘There’s no downside to this. It’s all upside.’ It feels good every day, and it truly has been that way.”
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