Moe O’Connor | University of Portland

Moe O’Connor

The University of Portland sports landscape looked very different in 1979—five years before the Chiles Center dome first sprang to life—when Moe O’Connor arrived on The Bluff and boldly accepted a daunting mission: to build an intercollegiate women’s athletic program from the ground up. As UP’s first women’s athletic director, hired to comply with Title IX’s equal opportunity decree, O’Connor had three months in the summer of ’79 to hire part-time coaches, assemble seven teams with non-scholarship athletes, buy uniforms, and cold-call opponents to schedule games. “Everything happened very quickly,” O’Connor recalls. “I’m not quite sure how I did it—I just jumped in.” Only 27 years old at the time and new to Portland from Illinois, O’Connor formed immediate bonds with coaches in the men’s program. “I didn’t hide in my office. I had to get out there,” she says. “We had no support staff or counselors to check on student-athletes’ grades. It was all me. I got to know our athletes very well, which was great.” In addition to athletic director duties, O’Connor served as women’s head volleyball and tennis coach and rally squad advisor. Before the end of her seven-year run, the University opened the Chiles Center and made the monumental move to NCAA Division I. She helped lay the early foundation for many victory celebrations that would follow, including two women’s soccer national championships in the early 2000s. O’Connor went on to serve for 30 years at Portland Community College—13 years on the physical education faculty and 17 years as the department’s faculty chair. She also had a brief stint as an interim dean. Looking back on her five decades of teaching and sports administration, O’Connor is proud to have played a part in the steady growth and the indelible impact of women’s collegiate sports. “From the start, I always believed women should be competing at the same level as the men,” she says. Her love of the game continues today as she cheers on her grandchildren in various fields of play. And when the University recently honored her in conjunction with Title IX’s 50th anniversary, O’Connor felt a renewed rush of purple pride revisiting a women’s sports enterprise that has thrived over 44 years of steadfast competition—empowering countless women to become leaders, achievers, and lifelong winners. “I’m amazed, humbled, and filled with so many great memories of my years as a Pilot. It was a very special time.”