The University of Michigan field hockey team will honor former Wolverine coach and U-M women’s athletics pioneer Phyllis Ocker with a commemorative patch affixed on their uniforms for the remainder of the 2013 season. Ocker died Aug. 23 at the age of 87 in Ellensburg, Wash.
A guiding force in the development of women’s athletics at U-M, Ocker was Michigan’s field hockey coach (1974-77) and director of women’s athletics (1977-90). She also served as an assistant professor in Michigan’s physical education department.
“Phyllis Ocker was integral to the establishment of women’s varsity athletics at the University of Michigan,” said Dave Brandon, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics. “Her passion and leadership started a process that has resulted in Michigan becoming the most successful women’s athletics program in the history of the Big Ten Conference. Every student-athlete, coach, and athletic department team member owes a great deal of thanks to Phyllis for her vision and role in advancing women’s athletics at Michigan.”
In 1973, Ocker was appointed to the Burns Committee to investigate the development of women’s intercollegiate sports at Michigan. Upon the recommendations of the Burns Committee’s final report, the university established six varsity sports for women in the 1974-75 school year: tennis, basketball, swimming and diving, synchronized swimming, volleyball and field hockey.
She was named Michigan’s field hockey coach in 1974 and led the Wolverines to a 33-33-3 record over her four years at the helm. In 1977, she took over as the interim director of women’s athletics while continuing to coach and teach and, a year later, was named the permanent director.
During her 13 years as women’s athletic director, Ocker guided the women’s program through its infancy and into a competitive program that included seven conference titles. Michigan grew from six part-time head coaches, 20 scholarships and limited access to training staff or facilities, to a staff of more than 30 full-time coaches and support staff, more than 100 scholarships, and renovated new facilities devoted to women’s athletics.
Michigan’s field hockey field — Phyllis Ocker Field — was dedicated in her honor in 1995. The facility will receive a $13.5 million renovation upon the conclusion of the 2013 season.
“The impact that Phyllis Ocker had on Michigan Athletics, in particular for the women, is still felt today,” said field hockey head coach Marcia Pankratz. “She was a pioneer, a role model, and an inspiration for a whole generation of Michigan student-athletes. We are honored to have our field hockey field named after her and will continue to represent her legacy with pride.”