Like many other South Coast residents Southwestern Oregon Community College created options for Coos Bay resident Fran Worthen, and she took advantage of those opportunities to enrich her life with education and become a pioneer in women’s athletics.
That is one reason the groundbreaking coach, athlete and model community member has been named Southwestern Oregon Community College Distinguished Alumna, chosen by the Laker Club alumni association out of several other phenomenal candidates.
Worthen took her first class at Southwestern as a 16-year-old in 1970 when she developed an interest in psychology and, after high school graduation, enrolled in classes full-time at the College. The standout jumper and sprinter, after helping to lead the Marshfield track and field team to the 1972 state title, was encouraged by then Laker track coach Mike Hodges – with the support of then President Jack Brookins – to train with the men’s team at Southwestern.
Those were the days before Title IX when women didn’t have the same opportunities to compete in athletics as they do today, and Worthen happily accepted the offer. By the end of her first year Worthen was clocking times fast enough to compete with the men.
“I was the first woman to compete on a men’s collegiate team in track and field,” Worthen said. “It was cutting edge. That was all before Title IX, so what I was doing was controversial.”
All the while she was taking a variety of courses such as British Literature, Home Economics, Personal Computers, Interior Design and Interior Decorating. Some were for practical purposes and others simply because there was an interest. Worthen never completed a degree, but the education she took away was invaluable.
“All the classes I took can shape the fabric of a person’s mind and emotions,” she said. “They were all relevant. The community college opened doors for lifelong learning.”
On the field of competition Worthen eventually moved up to the Amateur Athletic Union level, competing all over the country and qualifying for many international teams. She won a national championship in the 220-yard dash in AAU competition and is the record-holder in the 440-yard relay.
“My experience at Southwestern opened the doors for me to be able to go to the next level with track and field ability,” Worthen said. “If it hadn’t been for Jack Brookins and coach Hodges and my experience at Southwestern none of those doors would have been opened for me. They changed my world and I will be forever grateful for that.”
Worthen retired from track and field as an athlete in 1975 when she shifted gears, becoming a full-time mom and raising three daughters. After her husband died in a logging accident in 1982, Worthen eventually married again and had two more daughters. The Worthens opened Pacific Properties real estate agency – an holding they still operate – in Coos Bay together, but Fran considers her role as a wife and mom the most important.
“Motherhood perfectly prepared me for the rigors of being a head coach,” Worthen said.
She accepted a position as assistant coach on the Marshfield High School track and field team in 1998 and ultimately rose to the rank of head coach in 2002, a position she held until this spring. During that time Worthen guided the Pirates back to state prominence, winning the 2005 girls team championship, as well as Marshfield’s first-ever boys state team title this spring.
Worthen is active in the community, participating in her church, as well as on the PEO Sisterhood Chapter FM Education and Scholarship Committee and the Star of Hope Board of Directors. She will be addressing the Southwestern Class of 2008 at its graduation ceremony, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 13, in the Hales Center for the Performing Arts on the Coos Bay campus. It’s a group she has a lot in common with. Southwestern is opening new opportunities for those students the same way it has enriched Worthen’s life.
“It was a good time in my life mainly because of the relationships I built,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience for me. College opened doors for me I never would have dreamed I would have opened for me.”
The Southwestern Laker Club alumni association is accepting registrations for Charter Membership status through June 30. Registration is free to join organization, which currently includes around 580 members after just over a year in existence. For more information or to sign up, those interested can call the Southwestern Foundation Office at 888-7209 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.