Mabel-Canton grad was a women’s basketball pioneer
By Sarah Doty
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
When Marty Dahlen (McKelvey) was young, there was no such thing as an organized girls basketball team at Mabel-Canton. Instead, she played against her brother. But in 1974, when Dahlen was a freshman, that changed.
Warren Barrett was announced as the coach and a small group of girls made up the first team for the Cougars.
"I am proud of being able to have (had) that opportunity," said Dahlen recently. "I think we have come a long ways as to how women can be challenged and accepted, and that is a big breakthrough."
Dahlen made her mark for the Cougars, scoring 1,325 points and setting a school record that she still holds today.
"I was very fortunate to have a coach that really was knowledgeable (about basketball)," she said. "Most teams suffered because they didn’t have the coaching. Schools would want women coaching women, and at that time they just didn’t have the experience because they hadn’t played. We were very lucky that we had (Barrett) who had already been coaching and had success."
The knowledge she gained from Barrett stuck with her as she continued her outstanding play into college, where she played forward for the University of Minnesota from 1978-82.
But times were different back then.
"When (the U of M) first started in 1975 at the college level, they weren’t in the Big Ten Conference," she said. "Instead, they were playing either local teams or private college teams because they didn’t have a budget (for the sport) so they couldn’t spend money on traveling and hotels. The Big Ten wasn’t a part of that schedule. When I came in, we had more of a regional tournament, and we were in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW)."
That didn’t stop her and her team from putting together some amazing seasons under the coaching of Ellen Mosher Hanson. During the 1980-81 season they went 28-7. The team went 81-44 from 1978-82.
Those remarkable seasons were Dahlen’s favorite part of basketball.
"(My favorite part) was finding success within our team," she said. "Even though we were pioneers in starting out, the degree to which we performed was exceptional. We were playing at a high level for women in that time.
"No one thought that we could do it, and it gave us much more reason to want to do it, not only for ourselves, but to put people on the map and give people the opportunity."
At an individual level, Dahlen did her part. She scored 1,345 points in her career, which places her ninth today in all-time Minnesota leading scorers. During her senior season she averaged 15.6 points per game and was a finalist for the Wade Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top senior. She also was selected as a member of the 1981 AIAW All-Region 6 Team.
Since then, she and her teammates have been recognized for their accomplishments.
Just last year Dahlen was inducted into the 2007 class of the Minnesota Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2006, she was also inducted as a member of the 1980-81 team, and in 2009, she will once again be enshrined as the 1981-82 team will be recognized.
"It feels great," she said. "I was fortunate to play with the players on my team. Actually, I am the fifth on the team to be inducted. I am humbled for having been recognized, and if I have at all raised the bar, I am deeply grateful."
Today Dahlen lives in Scandia, Minn., with her husband and 10-year-old son. She is a park and recreation program coordinator.
She doesn’t play basketball anymore, but she has coached several sporting teams, officiated basketball and continues to volunteer coach.
While she misses it, she now looks back on her basketball days with fond memories.
"Most people thought women couldn’t be challenged in that way," she said. "We broke a lot of new ground, and you learn to appreciate that women could be as physical and successful."