Duke is celebrating 50 years of varsity women’s athletics in 2021-2022. This is the second installment in a year-long series from GoDuke The Magazine reflecting the 14 Blue Devils’ women’s sports programs. For more on the university, check out dukengwsd.com/dukewomens50 or # DukeWomens50 on social media.
Leslie was Duke’s first scholarship volleyball player and one of the first five student-athletes to receive a sports scholarship. She was a team captain and was a key figure in the 1976 team that reached the AIAW National Championships. She was also a violinist with the Duke Symphony Orchestra. Today, she is a consultant (in conflict resolution and mediation), host, strategic planner, professional playwright and author living in Colorado.
In the fall of 1977, what did it mean to you to be in the first group of Duke student-athletes to receive athletic scholarships?
This was when universities had to comply with Title IX. I wasn’t very aware of what was going on in the background. When I received the scholarship, I was a junior and had already been attending university for two years. My second year, our team participated in the AIAW National Tournament, the first time the volleyball program participated in the National Tournament. I hadn’t been drafted at Duke for volleyball, I was a walkon in first grade. Because our team did very well and I was a good player in the team and I was going to be there for a few more years, that’s the reason. And it helped Duke comply. They had to start having equity in sport. So it was a way for Duke to recognize my accomplishments for what I had done in volleyball and also a way for Duke to come into compliance (with Title IX).
What are some of the things you fondly remember from that 1976 season when you went to the national tournament and created a buzz on campus, as well as playing volleyball at Duke in general?
There was a lot of attention and it was great. Ed Turlington from (The Chronicle) has us covered and has written a lot of great articles. What was really fun was getting out of the East Campus Gymnasium and moving to Cameron so we could play our games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. it was wonderful and exciting to play on this great floor. What was really wonderful was having spectators. It hadn’t really happened before. We had a few friends (present) but people started to come in and that only increased the level of excitement.
In addition, I must say that our team is always in contact. We are planning a big meeting for next fall. We have had meetings before. We became very close, it was a unique bond, and it was at a time when we were not overwhelmed with money. We ended up in the back of pickup trucks driving through Tennessee, crashed into each other playing word games and getting to know each other. I have to say these are some of my most cherished memoriesâ¦ and it’s wonderful that we are still in touch.
With Title IX coming into play a few years earlier, did you have a feeling that women’s sport was about to become something big or was it still too early to say what might happen?
Swimming took on its full meaning at that time, tennis too, golfâ¦ These sports all had a presence and their presence was becoming more and more important. And it happened pretty quickly around that time, in the early ’80s. Nancy Hogshead and various other athletes around that time, basketball started to come into playâ¦ I think when we went to the national tournament and that we saw what was going on there, we were playing against the main players in the sport and it opened your eyes – look at what is happening, at the athletic level, at all these places across the country it can happen here too. So there was a feeling that something was going to change. How, when and how quickly was not clear because it was only the beginning.
Tell us about your career path and how Duke will impact your future.
Duke is a huge part of my life right now. I am the ideal prodigal. I literally had nothing to do with college for 20 or 30 years. Then I came back for a women’s weekend at Duke and realized Duke’s extraordinary human resources. So I brought that experience back here to Colorado with me, started the Women’s Forum here, chaired it, and eventually became a member of the Duke Alumni Board of Directors through the experience of volunteering for Duke intensely for the past 10 years. I came to admire college on a level that I didn’t appreciate when I was in school. Nothing. I tell people that I am a slow developer with a slow maturation rate. It took me a while to understand the power of the network, the power behind the resources of the people of Duke, the alums. I’m constantly amazed when I’m in a Duke alumni room. So now my involvement with Duke is pretty deep, pretty broad, and incredibly important to my well-being.
The volunteer journey at Duke is what struck me the most. Professionally, I had a bit of a twisty road. I am not one of the linear people. I went from being a semi-professional musician to a consulting job early in the banking industry, developing projects when banking started getting remote with ATMs and things like that. I returned to school for a graduate degree in Psychiatry and Religion because I was interested in the intersection of spirituality and psychology and how it can transform groups and individuals in a positive way. I found myself in the field of conflict resolution and mediation.
What does it mean to you to be part of 50 years of women’s athletics at Duke?
Incredibly grateful. I was the proud recipient of the honor of being the first female volleyball player to receive a scholarship at Duke and part of that first cohort of five women to receive scholarships. It’s amazing. I’m so lucky to have been able to be that person and it’s part of my story because now I can come back and share the sense of being involved at such a high level in volleyball at Duke.
And there is nothing like the bond of being on a sports team. It’s unlike any other relationships or associations you might have because of this level of intensity and competition, so I’m very grateful to be a part of Duke.
I am also grateful that I was able to pass on the value of athletics to my daughter, Augusta Rose, and to support her to the fullest in this regard. She is an internationally competitive equestrian vaulter and her team was selected to represent the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships in Le Mans, France this summer. I am so grateful to have been able to give him this gift, to have an international experience living with families from other countries, discovering their customs, their food, their friendships. She has been jumping with the same team members since the age of 9 and they are all like sisters / cousins, even closer – this bond between teammates being one of the most unique relationships there is. Knowing that she already has it, that her life will always have been positively shaped by these times, makes my heart swell.
Jolene Nagel Duke has coached volleyball since 1999, 13 NCAA tournaments in 22 seasons, 4 ACC championships.
“I am delighted to know that Duke is celebrating 50 years of women’s athletics! The opportunities offered by Title IX were necessary and have had positive results at various levels. I have seen the positive influence of Title IX over the years. years, starting with my older sisters who started playing between classes at the end of high school wearing gym uniforms and bibs; to myself to be able to receive money from the purse and a pair of volleyball shoes that I treated like gold; to our student-athletes today It’s amazing to see the growth and development Over the years I have seen our student-athletes develop teamwork, cooperation, leadership, self-confidence, independence, strength and character to name just a few qualities. The incredible opportunities that have resulted from Title IX have dramatically improved many lives and families , including the men and boys in our lives. re witnessing the increased support, growth, opportunities and funding for women in athletics over the years and seeing the increased level at which we compete is exciting, motivating and proves it was the right thing to do. “