Olivia Paradise, leader of Mahtomedi’s state tennis championship team in 2016, recently led a fight by University of St. Thomas players to keep their team from being cut.
The St. Paul school announced May 11 that it would cut men’s and women’s tennis to reduce sports from 22 to 20 next year due to its impending move to the Division I Summit League, whose schools have 20 teams. The team got the bleak news just before regionals in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
“In Whitewater, it was hard to focus on playing,” Paradise said. “We were angry. We decided not to wear anything from St. Thomas. No purple. We wore white and black, some gray.”
However, the 11 women on the team had already decided to fight UST’s decision.
Paradise made some calls to hire Arthur H. Bryant, a California attorney who’s had considerable success in Title IX cases. Paradise and her doubles partner and roommate Brooke Habuku led the effort. Paradise, granddaughter of the late, great hockey coach Herb Brooks, was interviewed last week on WCCO Radio about the case and was quoted in articles by several news agencies.
“St. Thomas broke our hearts and the law. It told us it was eliminating our team just before we left for the NCAA regional tournament—and it violated Title IX by doing so,” Paradise summarized. “We could not let that stand. We had to fight for what is right.”
Even though both women’s and men’s tennis were being cut, this was a Title IX issue, Paradise explained, because the college’s enrollment is 47% women, but only 38% of the athletes are women, so cutting women’s tennis would drop them even farther below Title IX compliance.
Another reason UST gave was that the college didn’t have facilities to support Division I tennis, but Paradise said the players rejected that argument, pointing out that several other Tommie sports didn’t yet have DI-level facilities yet either.
Bryant, from the firm Bailey and Glasser in Oakland, California, charged that St. Thomas “blatantly violated” Title IX, and threatened a lawsuit.
The administration reversed its decision June 17. While maintaining that their reasons for cutting tennis “remain sound,” the overriding factor, the administration said, was the high cost of fighting a lawsuit, funds which could instead be spent to support the program. Women’s tennis was reinstated, but not men’s tennis. The school also had to pay the women’s attorney fees of $64,000.
Paradise said the women got “everything we wanted” — an agreement to keep the program for at least five years, to develop a gender equity program within three years, and fully comply with Title IX within three years — except that they also wanted the men’s program to continue.
Thus, her senior season was salvaged, to begin in the fall, against a Division I schedule.
“I never thought I would ever have to do something like this. Our girls never thought we would have to bring a lawsuit against our school,” said the 6-foot-3 athlete. “But I think it will feel even better this fall, knowing that we are able to play because of what we did.”
Paradise played No. 1 singles for Mahtomedi for six years. In her junior year, she came back from an injury just before sectionals and helped the Zephyrs capture the state crown and dethrone Edina, which had won 19 consecutive titles.
This season, Paradise helped the Tommies post a 14-4, win the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) playoffs and reach the round of 16 in NCAA Division III. Paradise was 12-3 at No. 2 singles and 14-1 at No. 1 doubles. She got MIAC player of the week in late March.
Paradise is majoring in journalism and has a goal of becoming a sportswriter or broadcaster, or to work for a pro hockey or baseball team. She is sports editor of TommyMedia, the school’s online newspaper. This summer she is an intern for the St. Paul Saints, where she organizes fun activities for fans during the games.