Bemidji State University (USA) Bemidji State Mourns Passing of BSU Women’s Athletics Pioneer Betsy McDowell

Bemidji State University Athletics is saddened to announce the passing of one of three founders of Bemidji State Women’s Athletics, Betsy McDowell. McDowell passed away peacefully at Crystal Brook Assisted Living in Park Rapids, Minn., Tuesday, Dec. 6. She was 89.

“Every department has an origin story, and BSU’s origin story is inextricably intertwined with Betsy McDowell,” said Bemidji State Director of Athletics, Britt Lauritsen. “Pre-Title IX and throughout the first 50 years of Title IX, the commitment to equality, to excellence, to inclusion, and to a true student-athlete experience for the women of Bemidji State is traced back through our pioneers. Betsy’s legacy stands as a charge for all of us – women and men of Bemidji State – to continue to do the work with love, with honor, and with purpose to make the next 50 years of BSU Athletics impactful for all our student-athletes. I am forever thankful for and humbled by the opportunities we have all been given to follow in her footsteps. I want to express immense gratitude to the family and friends of Betsy for their role in sharing her with the BSU family, as well as heartfelt condolences as they navigate this loss together.”

Women’s Athletics at Bemidji State would look differently if it weren’t for McDowell. McDowell came to Bemidji State in 1966 after completing her master’s degree at the University of Maine. Soon after, she helped found the Bemidji State women’s field hockey program and coached the team from 1969 to 1985. She led the Beavers to 22 conference and/or state championships and participated in seven national tournaments despite numerous barriers restricting the funding for women’s athletics.

In her 17 years as head coach of the program she compiled an outstanding overall record of 338-80-18 including eight consecutive Minn-Kota Athletic Conference championships, from 1971-79. As a result of her coaching success, McDowell coached the Midwest All-Star Field Hockey Team on three separate occasions. She is the second winningest head coach at Bemidji State behind R.H. “Bob” Peters.

Along with her coaching duties, McDowell as also an Assistant Professor of Physical Education, Health and Sports for 29 years at Bemidji State and was a nationally recognized volleyball and basketball official. She served as Woman’s Intramurals Director and served on numerous regional and national committees.

Following her retirement in 1995, McDowell along with Marion Christianson established the “Marion Christianson and Betsy McDowell Scholarship” at BSU that helps students majoring in Physical Education at BSU.

In 1996 she was recognized by Bemidji State athletics and inducted into the BSU Athletics Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the NSIC Hall of Fame in 2006.

Along with Dr. Marjory Beck and Dr. Ruth Howe, McDowell helped begin the women’s basketball, volleyball, women’s field hockey and women’s swimming programs at Bemidji State and the three are celebrated as official founders of Bemidji State Women’s Athletics.

The three also helped form one of the first competitive women’s leagues in the country, the Minn-Kota Athletic Conference, which has now taken shape as the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference where 12 BSU athletic programs currently compete in.

A family celebration will be held for McDowell in July 2023.