Mary F. Semanik and the Drexel women’s lacrosse team

For nearly three decades, Mary Semanik and her husband, the late John Semanik ’56, worked side-by-side to lead Drexel Athletics during critical periods of growth and change.

As the director of women’s athletics and director of athletics, respectively, they guided the University through the transition to Division I and the construction of the Physical Education Athletic Center (now known as the Daskalakis Athletic Center). Mrs. Semanik, in particular, played a central role in ushering women’s athletics at Drexel through the momentous opportunities made possible by the 1972 passage of Title IX legislation.

Now, nearly 25 years after her retirement, Mrs. Semanik is helping to transform Drexel Athletics yet again. Her recent gift, from her husband’s and her estate, endowed the first named coaching position of a women’s team at the University and also provides unrestricted support to the athletics program.

"I am making this gift to leave a legacy, with my husband, that supports Drexel’s student athletes," says Mrs. Semanik, a star field hockey and lacrosse player in her own student days.

Eric Zillmer, Carl R. Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology and director of athletics at Drexel, says the Mary Semanik Head Coach of Women’s Lacrosse position will provide lasting resources that will further strengthen what is poised to become a Top-30 program. He adds that Mrs. Semanik "forged women’s athletics at Drexel," helping to lay the groundwork for a program that is nationally recognized for its commitment to gender equity.

Such superlatives were a long way away, however, when the Semaniks first arrived at Drexel. Resources were scarce across the board - particularly for women athletes.

"I used to teach phys-ed classes in the [Philadelphia] Armory," Mrs. Semanik recalls. "We’d go in for dance, and there would be puddles of beer all over the floor because there had been a union meeting there the night before. And women’s lacrosse used to have to reuse the previous team’s shoes."

I am making this gift to leave a legacy, with my husband, that supports Drexel's student athletes.

The transition to Division I and the passage of Title IX brought in an influx of funding that allowed the Semaniks to expand both men’s and women’s programs. As equal access to federally funded educational programming - including collegiate athletics - became the law, Mrs. Semanik worked with her husband to invest in Drexel’s women athletes by introducing new sports, improving equipment and facilities, creating additional full-time coaching positions and earmarking a budget for recruiting.

Mrs. Semanik hopes her gift will allow Drexel Athletics to build upon the historic changes in women’s college athletics that she has seen unfold over the course of her career. The University officially recognized her philanthropy - and the lasting impact she and her husband have had on Drexel - by naming the Mary and John Semanik Lobby in the Daskalakis Athletic Center this past April.

"This lobby is the heartbeat of our department," said Dr. Zillmer during the dedication ceremony. "Over 700,000 visitors come through our facility every year. They’re going to come through this space and see what you and John accomplished - and on whose shoulders we stand today."