In 1973, Debbie Chin and two other female physical education teachers filed a Title IX lawsuit to get the schools in New Haven to add girls sports.
"They asked, 'Where do you expect the city to get the money to fund this?'" Chin said last week. "I said, 'Well, if you can afford to get the money to support the boys sports, then I guess the city could find the money to support girls sports.'"
Two years later, the city did. And New Haven College came calling to Chin, who had been a physical education teacher at Hillhouse for four years. How would she feel about starting a women's sports program at the college?
Actually, Chin had never heard of it. But she ended up accepting the job. The first fall, she coached tennis in the afternoon and volleyball at night and then basketball and softball in the winter and spring.
Forty-two years later, in February, Chin retired as the associate vice president and director of athletics and recreation of the University of New Haven and both women's sports and the university have come a long way. The New Haven women's basketball team won the state's first national championship in women's basketball, in Division II, in 1987. In 19 years of coaching volleyball, Chin had a 578-179 record and was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006.
She was also active in the NCAA, chairing the Division II Management Council, the top policy-making body, in 2008 and the Membership Committee, which establishes standards for Division II institutions.
On Saturday, the university named the basketball court "Deborah Chin Court" in her honor.
"It's an honor and privilege to have the institution recognize years of dedication," Chin said. "I think people at the university realize I've always been committed to the student-athlete experience. I've always kept the student part in the forefront of all the decisions that have come forward.
"I didn't expect it. I'm appreciative. You don't receive honors just for showing up."
Chin, 70, of Southbury, did more than that.
"I say to people, I live in the woods. I have three acres. I live on a lake. I haven't gone to the lake in five years, and it's on my property," she said, laughing. "I didn't know I had grass. I have somebody cut my grass. When you leave early in the morning and when I come home, it's dark, so who even sees the grass?
"I never paid attention to it until … I'm on the treadmill, downstairs. I'm looking out. It's a walkout basement … and I see these chipmunks looking at me. I go out and see all these holes in my lawn. I see a chipmunk come out of the hole and look at me."
The chipmunks probably didn't know who she was, either.
Chin grew up on Long Island and went to SUNY-Cortland, where she is now in the school's sports hall of fame. She began teaching at Rippowam High in Stamford before going to Hillhouse.
She had played field hockey, volleyball and basketball in college and was looking for a club field hockey team to play with when she heard about a volleyball team starting up.
"Somebody said there's a woman by the name of Joan Joyce starting this," Chin said. "It was at the Y in Bridgeport. I went there and met Joan. We played all over the country."
Donna Lopiano, who went on to become the AIAW president, the director of the Women's Sports Foundation and an expert on gender equity and Title IX, was also a member of that team. They are all still friends.
At New Haven, Chin was busy starting up, then coaching four sports at a school that had previously only had a club tennis team for women. One of her least memorable moments was an 89-13 loss to Yale. "I think I still have that article," she said wryly.
She hired a tennis coach the next year, a basketball coach two years later. In 1979, she hired a softball coach and became the associate athletic director.
In 1993, she gave up volleyball and was named New Haven's athletic director.
Of course, there were highs and lows. There were over 70 NCAA appearances by all the teams, including volleyball, which went to 13 NCAA and AIAW tournaments under Chin, and 31 overall. Her baseball teams went to 26 NCAA tournaments and made 14 World Series appearances. In 2011, Shannon Gagne put New Haven track on the map, becoming the third Division II track athlete to win five national titles, three in indoor, two in outdoor, in one year.
Since 2009, the football team has won three conference championships and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.
The low? That was easy. When the school decided to drop football in 2003.
"That was the worst professional experience I had," she said. "It wasn't my decision. I knew I was going to take the hit for it. Outsiders would say, 'A woman AD, she's dropping football, blah blah blah.' I took it. But I also knew it was not the right decision for New Haven."
She kept all the equipment in a trailer, even though schools were calling her for it. And eventually, in 2009, she helped bring football back.
"Institutions have to make decisions all the time," she said. "In the minds of those who were making the decision, they thought they were making the right decision. To some degree, it was good because we came back better and stronger."
Chin has too much of a Type A personality to sit around. She's playing a little golf, renovating her house. But she's also involved in the NCAA Division II coaches connection program, which helps disseminate information to coaches and athletic directors and allow coaches to express concerns and talk about issues through monthly phone conferences.
"Really in my opinion, she's one of the strongest leaders we've had, male or female," former University of Hartford athletic director Pat Meiser said. "We're fortunate to have her in Connecticut.
"I hope she stays in the world of college sports as a consultant. People ought to be grabbing her for every tough job."