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Mary Bottaro, women's sports trailblazer in Detroit, at Central Michigan, dies at 93

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Mary Bottaro, a Metro Detroit native and a trailblazer for women's sports in Michigan who went on to coach Central Michigan's field-hockey team for 10 years, died this week. She was 93.

Bottaro died Monday at her Mount Pleasant-area home, according to Central Michigan.

At Central Michigan in the 1970s and '80s, she led field hockey to three Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women state championships, three regional titles and three national tournament appearances. It was the first women's sports team at Central Michigan to earn national accolades, following the passage of landmark Title IX legislation in 1972.

Mary Bottaro, the field-hockey coach at Central Michigan in the 1970s and 1980s, died at 93.

Former players remembered her tenacity, and her empathy.

"If you would get down on yourself, she was good at motivating you to not be too hard on yourself," Donna Provenzola, who played for Bottaro in high school and college, told CMUChippewas.com. "She had a huge impact on my life. I came from a difficult family situation where if I wouldn't have had field hockey and her mentoring me at the time my life would have turned out a lot differently.

"She changed the trajectory of my life."

Bottaro coached Central Michigan's field-hockey team from 1976-85, with a record of 117-74-10. She was inducted into the CMU athletics Hall of Fame in 2002, and her 1976 team was inducted in 2011.

In 1976, the team finished fifth at nationals; in 1977, it finished seventh.

Bottaro graduated from Highland Park High School in 1945, and attended Highland Park Junior College for two years. He then moved on to Wayne State, where she graduated with a degree in health and physical education in 1951. In 1957, she earned a master's from Wayne State. She taught phys ed at Detroit Holcomb Elementary from 1951-59, coaching softball and basketball, and then Detroit Henry Ford High School from 1959-76. She also coached field hockey and tennis at Henry Ford, before leaving for the job at Central Michigan, where she also was an assistant professor.

Her playing career included four years of varsity basketball, field hockey and softball, and continued to play all three while teaching in Detroit. 

Her toughness was remembered. She apparently once suffered a broken leg during a field-hockey tournament, but continued to play.

"That's the kind of tenacity that she had," Provenzola said.

Bottaro also was a highly respected sports official, as a basketball referee and field-hockey umpire, gigs that helped her pay for college. She worked two World Cup Field Hockey tournaments, and worked the first girls basketball state championship game in Michigan, in 1973, according to her obituary.

Her sports career, as a player and official, took her to 15 countries.

Bottaro retired in 1986, and was passionate about bird and deer watching, the lake and her boat, as well as her cats and dog, Flicker.

According to her obituary, she is survived by her longtime friend Margo Jonker, the legendary Central Michigan softball coach, as well as a sister-in-law and several nieces and nephews.

A funeral mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant, with a burial scheduled for Saturday at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984