by Laura Jamieson
In 1965, when Bobbie Konover began coaching and teaching physical education at Germantown Friends School, Lyndon Johnson was President, no one had yet set foot on the moon, the Voting Rights Act had just become law, Betty Friedan founded the National Organization for Women and many universities didn’t have athletics teams for women.
Konover was a 21-year-old graduate of the University of Wisconsin looking to start her career at a school where she could teach physical education to young children and coach older students. GFS offered both those opportunities, as well as a community where Konover’s forward-looking vision, unyielding dedication to education and commitment to nurturing each student’s mind, body and spirit were encouraged and valued.
Konover played a vital role in the founding of the Friends Schools League (FSL) – one of the first leagues in the area to include girls’ athletics.
GFS’s Carl Tannenbaum (then the boys’ athletic director), who worked with Konover to found the League, said, “We founded [it] so that both boys and girls would have equal opportunity to compete for championships against comparable schools. As a result of [Bobbie’s] leadership, GFS was, and continues to be, a force in girls’ athletics in independent schools in the Philadelphia region.”
Konover ushered GFS through the women’s rights movement, the implementation of Title IX and the challenges of providing equal opportunities to girls and women in physical education and athletics. In 1965, GFS had more parity for girls than many other schools, but Konover wanted to make things even better for her girls.
Like most schools in the country, GFS had single-sex physical education. classes. As a result of Konover’s work, GFS was on the forefront of going co-ed in P.E. classes. In 1972, the boys’ and girls’ department merged and Konover became the P.E. department chair.
Konover moved girls’ athletics out of the “Little Gym” (then called the “Girls’ Gym”) and gave them equal access to facilities. She grew the girls’ athletics program, so that girls had as many games, facilities and opportunities as the boys. She pushed for a full-court girl’s basketball game, lobbied for a new girls’ field house (to replace the one that was all the way across the street from the fields), and improved girls’ facilities.
“The girls’ tennis courts were clay, so when it rained we would cancel games, and the boys were across the street still playing,” she recalled.
“I watch our young female athletes now and notice that they have no idea any inequality ever existed,” said GFS Athletics Director Katie Bergstrom Mark. “This is truly a tribute to Bobbie’s success and life’s work. Today’s female athletes don’t have to fight that fight. Bobbie fought it for them.”
Off the field, Konover served as a seventh-grade advisor and helped found the GFS Middle School. She served as head of the Middle School from 1992-94, during which time she developed athletics options for students in grades six through eight.
While Konover never shied away from taking on political struggles, administrative challenges and unjust inequities, she will also be remembered for the grace, compassion and confidence she brought to her Lower School physical education classes.
“P.E. educates kids about how their bodies work, so that, for a lifetime, they will have a knowledge about what they need to do to keep their bodies fit,” she said.
Whether she was refereeing a game of “Shark and Minnows” or “Pop-up Tag,” monitoring a special day such as “Terrific Tuesday” or “Wacky Wednesday” or helping students guide their own learning on “Round Day,” when students chose any round object to play with and develop their own games and ideas, she made P.E. fun, all the while educating students on movement, game play and sportsmanship.
“It is important to give them opportunities to put together games that they want to play,” she explained. “Most importantly, I want them to have fun yet keep it safe – they are learning how to move their bodies in space and around other people.”
Konover may be retiring, but she is not slowing down. The Lafayette Hill resident is kicking off her retirement adventures with a safari in Africa. She is a champion competitive bridge player, a personnel manager at the Mendelssohn Club Symphonic Chorus and a budding genealogist. She will continue her long career at officiating for sporting clubs throughout the Philadelphia area and beyond, most recently serving as a marshal for the 16th hole at the U.S. Open golf tournament in Merion.
After teaching, coaching, administering and guiding girls’ athletics for 48 years Konover is moving on to a new phase of her life. Her impact on GFS, however, will never be forgotten. There is now a “Konover Field” named in her honor, and strong and successful female athletes from schools across the region will be competing on that field for generations to come.