Callie Flipse: Making a splash in a man’s world

When Callie Flipse was introduced Saturday at halftime of the Xavier/GW game, more than one person nudged their neighbor to point out that the public address announcer had mistakenly announced her as a men’s water polo player.

But there was no mistake made Saturday, and there was no mistake made Friday night at the Washington Marriott when Flipse was inducted among the 41st class to the GW Athletic Hall of Fame. And there must not have been many mistakes made by Flipse in the 1980s when she not only became the first woman at GW to participate in a Division I varsity men’s sport but the first to excel as a player and then a coach.

Yes, 15 years ago, Flipse, who was also a standout swimmer at GW, made national waves for playing on a men’s team at GW, something she never planned to do.

Flipse had decided that she would attend GW early in her senior year with the full knowledge that there was no women’s water polo program in Foggy Bottom.

I didn’t really anticipate participating in college athletics, Flipse said Tuesday from her home in Florida, where she is the athletic director for her alma mater, Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Fla.

But in that 1984 senior women’s water polo season, played in the spring, she had a career year. Because of her great high school finish – and after Flipse received a brochure from GW that listed men’s water polo as a varsity sport – she thought she would see if there was a chance she could play.

In an NCAA-recognized sport, a woman is required to receive a tryout if there is not a female equivalent at her university. But Flipse wasn’t going to force anything. She was just going to ask.

I wasn’t going to force the issue, she said, because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

The coach saw no problem with it. He checked out the rules and Flipse started as a walk-on freshman.

I though I was really well-received by my teammates, she said. And in fact, when the competition started, the team was almost protective of me. I learned not to say anything to my team when an opponent did anything to me because my teammates would get upset.

Flipse, who scored 50 goals in her career but was mostly a defensive specialist, saw quickly that at GW she could compete. She also found that her uniqueness was an advantage during her freshman year, as opponents didn’t know what to do with her. She almost always scored the first goal in each game.

I had a strong freshman year because the novelty of it at first threw the opponents off, she said.

When Flipse graduated from GW, she took over for the departed coach while she got her master’s degree. She was conference coach of the year three of her four seasons.

Describing herself as a Florida girl at heart, Flipse went back home in 1992, having accomplished all of her goals, except winning an Eastern Championship.

I loved Washington, D.C., to death, but I knew it wasn’t really the place to make my life, she said.

This year, she joined athletes such as Red Auerbach as the GW Athletic Hall of Fame swelled to 94 members, among them the girl who became a woman among the men.

It was a tremendous honor, she said. Looking back on it, I realize what a huge accomplishment it was. When I was doing it, I was just doing it, doing something I enjoyed.

It wasn’t even a dream, because I never planned it.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.