Athletics at CMC
The seventh exhibition in the series, Athletics at CMC, examines the history of the athletics program at CMC, from the College’s beginnings competing as part of a joint team with Pomona College through its current successes as Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athletics. Throughout the exhibit, we will examine the history and role of sports on campus, including landmark athletics events and achievements, as well as notable coaches and student-athletes whose legacies and impacts continue to be felt on the program to this day.
The Archives consulted a variety of sources in compiling this exhibit, including the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athletics website, and are indebted to those historic resources.
The CMC Digital Archives
Join with Claremont McKenna College as we celebrate our vibrant 75-year history. Reflecting back on the College’s modest origins will lead to perspectives on the College’s current success and will inform the College’s aspirations for the future.
The 2021-22 academic year will be spent commemorating the milestones of the last 75 years in monthly exhibitions that will focus on faculty, students, campus buildings, presidents, coeducation, research institutes, the role of veterans, and others.
The Pomona-Claremont Era
Following its first year, CMC joined Pomona College to operate a joint varsity athletics program, competing in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) beginning in 1947-48. The joint athletics program was popular amongst students of both colleges and experienced early success, especially in mainstream varsity sports like football, baseball, basketball, and track and field.
Throughout the 1950s, football quickly grew as the most popular sport across the campuses and provided great spectator enjoyment. The team would go on to capture its first SCIAC title later that season with a pivotal win against rival Occidental College. From 1953 to 1955, Pomona-Claremont football won three SCIAC titles in a row. Throughout the decade, The Analyst student newspaper provided extensive coverage of football games and attendant festivities and by the mid-1950s, the well-attended Saturday football game had become an important component of homecoming weekend.
Following Claremont Men’s College’s official notice of termination of the Pomona-Claremont joint program, the College positioned itself for a new athletic future and explored a partnership with Harvey Mudd College, whose first classes were beginning in 1957. Exploring options to create a new Claremont-Mudd athletic program, President George Benson and newly hired athletic director William “Bill” Arce were successful in their efforts to persuade HMC in joining their new program. HMC also agreed to adopt the Stags moniker as the name for the joint team, while CMC and HMC trustee Harvey Mudd gave HMC a gift of $100,000 to help underwrite the costs of the newly established athletic program.
Bill Arce was the founding director of the CMS Athletics program and served as head coach of the Stags baseball team from 1958 to 1979.
The Founding of CMS and Growth of Women’s Athletics
With CMC officially going co-ed in the fall of 1976, the presence of women on campus brought change to the classrooms, residence and dining halls, and the playing fields. To accommodate women’s athletics, a joint program was established with Scripps and with the women’s teams to compete under the Athenas moniker. With the women’s athletics department established for the 1976-77 academic year, the Athenas began competition in five intercollegiate sports: volleyball, basketball, swimming and diving, track, and tennis; with a sixth, cross country, added in fall of 1977.
Members of the 1978 women’s basketball team. A decade later, the Athenas had their most successful season in 1987-88, capturing the first ever 20-win season for the program (with a record of 22-3) and clinching their first-ever SCIAC title.
SCIAC Dominance (1990 – 1999)
During the 1990s, the CMS cross country and track and field programs began their development into conference, regional, and eventually national powers. 1992 saw the Stags track and field team win their first SCIAC championship; they would go on to win or share the next 19 league championships. The Athenas cross country and track and field teams fared just was well. After capturing the 1994 SCIAC championship, the Athenas began a reign of dominance in conference with a streak of eight straight titles beginning in 1994 and are winners of 23 of the last 26 SCIAC Championships. The following season, the Athenas finished fourth at the 1995 NCAA Championships, their highest finish until 2012. The women’s track and field team, meanwhile, captured their first SCIAC crown in 1995 and have won or shared 18 of the last 25 league titles.
After winning the SCIAC title, the Athenas volleyball team beat Redlands for its first NCAA win in program history in 1993. The Athenas would go on to beat Trinity (Texas) to reach the NCAA Quarterfinal Round, before falling to UC San Diego.
In 1968, John Zinda took over the head football coaching position and leading the Stags to SCIAC Championships in 1970, 1979, 1986, and 1987. In 1983, Zinda took over as athletic director from long-time director Bill Arce and oversaw the introduction of three new women’s varsity sports, soccer (1985), softball (1990), and water polo (1993), as the department grew to 19 sports and continued to achieve unprecedented success.
The CMS women’s track and field team earned a top-10 finish at the 1998 NCAA Division III Championships and were led by Jennifer Culley (Scripps ’98) (far left), who became the first CMS graduate to become a women’s track and field national champion after taking first place in the 400 meters.
CMS in the New Millennium
As we reach the modern era, CMS Athletics has established itself as regional power with the men’s program, having won 212 SCIAC titles and the women’s program having won 131 SCIAC titles (as of 2021)—both the most among SCIAC programs. Today, almost one-third of the student body compete on official varsity or club sports teams, with the rest of the student body involved in intramural sports, recreational activities, and individual fitness pursuits. The CMS Department of Physical Education offers a robust selection of over 40 P.E. classes each year including archery, badminton, hiking, sailing, scuba diving, and yoga. Overall, the future remains bright for CMS Athletics as its student athletes continue to strive excellence both on and off the playing fields .
The 2017 Athenas volleyball team won the first national title at CMS for any women’s sport, soon followed by women’s golf and women’s tennis later that same academic year.