DURHAM, N.C.— Over the summer, the Blue Devils have been catching up with Duke women's basketball alumnae to see what they have been up to since leaving Durham. Up next is 1979 graduate Betsy Bergeron. A native of Greenwich, Conn, Bergeron was a four-time letterwinner with the Blue Devils and by her senior campaign helped lead Duke to a school-record 11 wins and notch its first ACC victories.
Since graduating from Duke, what have you been up to?
I have been teaching high school music for 36 years, 30 of them at my present school – Greens Farms Academy in Westport, Conn. I love what I do and I really enjoy my students. Along with my partner, Kim, we founded a non-profit theatre company – Off-Beat Players, Inc. It is a theatre company for teens and young adults with and without disabilities. We are a fully integrated company that provides opportunities for young people with special needs to fully participate along with their typical peers in a community theatre production. We put on a musical every summer and have been doing this for over 15 years. Check us out at www.offbeatplayers.org.
With your love for music, did you do anything with music at Duke? Were you involved with the band?
Yes, I was in the marching band, played xylophone and cymbals, for two football seasons. I also sang in the Chapel Choir for one semester. I had to stop that due to time conflicts with basketball practice.
How was it helping to start the women’s basketball program in the late 1970s?
Well, at the time, I don’t think that any of us realized that we were helping to start a program. We were all very passionate about basketball and just wanted to play on the highest level that we could. It was a struggle at times, very frustrating dealing with the losing records. However, I think that is usually the price that has to be paid in athletics when starting any varsity program. Now, looking back on it, it is really cool to think that we helped start the women’s basketball program – the founding “mothers”, if you will. To know that I was one of the first four year letter winners in women’s basketball is also really cool. The lesson learned, at least for me, is that you have to persevere no matter what. It will eventually pay off. It is a lesson that I continue to share with my students to this day and continue to remind myself when I start a new venture.
The team registered 11 wins in the 1978-79 season, which was your senior year. How was it winning the first ACC games in school history and finishing so well?
It was so great to finally get double digits in victories and be a part of the first ACC season in school history. There was a sense that we were finally on the right track, but, again, I don’t think that we were all that aware of the historical aspects of that year. We were just happy to win some games. I did feel that we were a part of history when it came to playing in the first women’s ACC Tournament. I still have my players pass from that year.
Have you been able to keep in touch with many former teammates/coaches?
Not as much as I would like to. I did get to reconnect with Kathy Kennedy when Duke played in the NCAA Tournament up here in Connecticut and Barb Krause when Duke played the Huskies in Hartford. I also connected with Deb Lowry when she came up this way on business. She saw one of our summer theatre productions. I mostly reconnect with people when I get back to Durham to see a game or for another occasion, like the celebration of the 40th year of Title IX. That was a lot of fun and was a great chance to catch up with people.
Do you still follow DWB and watch games when they are on television?
Oh, yes. They are not on as often up here in Connecticut (hmm… I wonder why?) but I will try to reschedule whatever I can to watch them play. Thank goodness for being able to watch them on the computer on ESPN3! When Duke played Maryland in the NCAA finals, I had an evening rehearsal that I just cancelled so that I could watch the game!
Have you been able to make it back to Durham recently?
I was back there in the fall of 2015 for a football game. The campus is still such a beautiful place. I did not get to see a women’s practice, unfortunately, due to time.
Since leaving Duke, who are a few DWB players you have enjoyed watching play?
There are so many whose games I have really appreciated when watching on television - Hilary Howard was the ultimate floor general and Lauren Rice just did whatever had to be done on the court, Lindsey Harding, Alana Beard, Missy West, Elizabeth Williams, Monique Currie, Chelsea Gray, Haley Peters, Rebecca Greenwell… the list could go on and on… I enjoy watching every Duke women’s hoops team because they all play with class.
When looking back on your days at Duke, what are some of your favorite memories?
I enjoyed the silly stuff like toilet papering a friend’s car for her birthday, the silly traditions like the “ant crossing” – which isn’t there any more. I remember going to hear Handel’s great oratorio, “The Messiah”, every year in the chapel, getting the opportunity to play the Flentrop Organ in the chapel. (Did I mention that I was a music major?) I remember painting Cameron Indoor Stadium to raise money for DWB, flying to Clemson with the men’s team to play there – a first for DWB. I remember the gorgeous sunsets and just the natural beauty of the campus.
Have you developed any new hobbies, etc., that you are involved with these days?
Off-Beat Players, our theatre company, has been our other life outside of teaching. Not quite a hobby but still… Kim and I along with our dog, Wally, who was a shelter rescue, have taken therapy dog classes and now go to libraries and schools so that Wally can work with kids. It is very rewarding and fun. Wally has the distinction of being the only dog to have had a time out every class and he had to repeat the class in order to graduate!
In the picture attached, the young man in the green shirt, who has been a part of Off-Beat Players for a few years now is Danny Clark. His brother is John Clark, who is a manager for DWB!!! How wild is that and what a coincidence!!. His mom was so excited, as was Danny. She told me that John is going to Italy with the team this summer as well. What a small world.
How has a Duke degree helped you?
I learned so much at Duke from some wonderful professors – especially Dr. David Maves, my music theory professor and my advisor for my freshman year. He was a great teacher and I have tried to model my own teaching style after him. I had the opportunity to take a jazz class with the great Mary Lou Williams. That was an incredible experience on its own. It is exciting for me when my current students tell me that they are going to Duke or applying to Duke, a few of them because of stories that I have told them about my own time there and my dad’s time there. He played baseball for Jack Coombs and graduated in ’52. I made some lifelong friends and got to experience the highs and lows of basketball and life.