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Pat Rogers: A Role Model for Women’s Athletics

September 3, 2009

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UAlbany Synchronized Swimming Coach Pat Rogers

UAlbany Synchronized Swimming Coach Pat Rogers. (Photo M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives)

Scrolling through the archives of the Albany Student Press, an article from 1971 highlights the success of Albany State Synchronized Swim Team. The “Cygnets” had recently placed fourth at the Third Annual Eastern Intercollegiate Synchronized Swimming Conference Routine Competition, held at UAlbany. Head Coach Pat Rogers highlighted the level of skill and ability of the swimmers, representing the University of Vermont, Penn State, Brandeis and several SUNY schools. She also pointed to 1972 as the year the UAlbany team would put on their first “water show” for the University.

The newspaper’s stories about the club point to an enthusiastic fan base, and a dedicated coaching staff. Rogers was devoted to the student-athletes who comprised the team – consisting of both women and men – throughout her tenure as head coach from 1970 through 1981.  Rogers even served as meet director for the first AIAW national championship in the sport.

On August 29, 2009, Rogers passed away surrounded by her family in Aurora, N.Y. She was 69.

"Pat Rogers was a great professional who took tremendous pride in her ability to teach and communicate," said UAlbany football coach Bob Ford. "She had great success coaching synchronized swimming and earned great respect within the university community as evidenced by her appointment as chair of the University Senate."

The daughter of Clyde and Pauline (Coon) Cole, Rogers was born in Norwich, N.Y. Rogers was an avid swimmer from an early age, and swimming and teaching would become her two great career passions.

While a student at SUNY Cortland, Rogers participated in field hockey and dance, taught swimming at the YWCA, and was the faculty editor of the yearbook.  Rogers earned her bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation from Cortland in 1962.  The following year, she received a master’s degree in adaptive physical education from the University of Oregon, shortly before taking a position as a physical education teacher in the North Colonie School District.

In 1965 she came to UAlbany as a physical education instructor and the women’s intramural director. Later Rogers was appointed associate professor in the physical education department, and would go on to serve as chair through 1994, when she retired as associate professor emeritus.

University at Albany Synchronized Swim Team in 1979

The University at Albany Synchronized Swim Team performs in 1979. (Photo Mark Henschel)

"All of the students on her team loved her, once you got past her tough exterior," said Sylvia Ulion, UAlbany assistant athletic director and 1975 UAlbany alum. "She was always there to help with other school issues or discuss problems we were having.  She was just tough enough to make one work at being better, both in the water and in life."

As a student, Ulion spent as much time as she could in the athletic department, eventually serving as an assistant coach for Rogers. She stayed on until the program was cut in 1981 – but this didn't signal an end to Rogers' stay at the University. It was in 1981 that Rogers stepped into a new administrative role -- associate athletic director -- a position she would hold until 1993.

She also chaired UAlbany's University Senate in 1984-85 and worked directly with the Athletics’ Council, now known as the Intercollegiate Athletics Advisory Board (IAAB).  The previous year she worked with the State University of New York Athletic Conference Reorganization Committee and eventually guided the conference's expansion into women's athletics.

Rogers was also recognized for her dedication to her students and her profession. In 1985, she received the UAlbany Student Affairs Division Campus Award as the faculty member who most contributed to campus life. That same year, she was inducted into the SUNY-Cortland Athletic Hall of Fame.

In addition to her career at UAlbany, Rogers served as president of SUNY Athletic Conference 1986-87, and vice president of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference 1988-89.  She also served on the City of Albany Tricentennial Sports Committee, the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce Sports Committee and an official for the Empire State Games. Rogers was an active volunteer for the American Red Cross for over 30 years.

Survivors include her mother; two daughters, Michele A. Rogers of Islip, N.Y. and Patricia J. Rogers Nolan of Aurora, N.Y.; one brother, Thomas A. Cole and his wife Dale of Mendon, N.Y.; a niece, Kathleen Cramer and her husband Patrick of Penfield, N.Y.; a nephew, Michael Cole of Maryville, Tenn.  Rogers was predeceased by her father, who died in 2004.

Today the University at Albany has 19 athletic teams competing in the NCAA Division-I ranks – 11 women's teams and 8 men's teams. Combined, UAlbany student athletes have brought home 37 conference championships, 15 NCAA tournament appearances, two IC4A track titles since the University’s move to Division I in 1999. Perhaps more importantly, UAlbany student-athletes have been honored for academic excellence, and have devoted thousands of hours of volunteer work to organizations such as the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society and Big Brothers/Big Sisters – a sure sign that Rogers’ legacy and commitment to students remains.

"I think Pat’s greatest contribution to the University overall was pushing women's athletics forward," said Ulion.  "She started in the days when women's sports were for fun and exercise and not competitive. Through her efforts and others, women's equality in athletics took a major step forward at the University and set the groundwork for how far we have come today."

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