If there’s one word that sums up Arlene O’Rourke’s high school athletic career, it’s commitment. It is best seen in her four year participation in both basketball and track. Off the field, it is exemplified through her four year run in the Rice Choir. Perhaps the most telling sign of her commitment was her return to Rice after graduation to coach three sports teams, including the Softball and Field Hockey teams, in their inaugural seasons.
Arlene’s commitment to athletics allowed her to be successful in a pre-Title IX world. One such example is her junior season of basketball. The girls’ team started the season with a 2-2 record. As the season advanced, Arlene’s leadership sparked 8 consecutive wins and an impressive season record of 10-2. While the girls’ basketball program in the late 60’s was successful and enriching, the players and the very game itself were about to see some major changes.
In Arlene’s era girls’ basketball played with a different set of rules. She explains, “My freshman through junior year the game had 6 players, two played only defense, two played only offense and two players called ‘rovers’ were allowed to play both.” In her competitive spirit, Arlene adds, “I remember trying out for rover and being quite determined I would be a rover or not play.” Not everyone knew the differences in the games. Arlene recalls one incident in which the boys’ team was passing through the gym during a girls’ game. “One member called to me to let me know the other team had 6 players on the court. As I continued to play I responded ‘So do we!’”
In Arlene’s senior year, for the first time in the history of girls’ basketball at Rice, boys and girls would play by the same rules: 5 players with free reign over the whole court. The Little Indians dominated, led by Captain Arlene Fraga, with a 5-1 season. To this day, she still lists playing “real” basketball as one of her fondest Rice memories. Reflecting on her time as a female athlete, she remarked, “We played because we loved to play. There was certainly no notoriety or often any encouragement to play.”
1970 also marked the first time that Vermont held a state track meet for girls. Arlene, who had participated in track all four years without ever being able to compete in a state meet, did not let the opportunity go to waste. She won the Rice team points with her 5th place overall in the shot put, ending her track career with the Little Indians on a high note.
Arlene continued to make Rice proud after her graduation in 1970, going on to play basketball at UVM freshman year, then switching to softball. Throughout her college athletic career and after graduation, Arlene displayed a commitment to sharing her love of athletics with others. After starting the field hockey and softball programs at Rice, she moved on to a career in Physical Education. She has never stopped coaching, between her kids’ Little League teams, field hockey team, and swim lessons, and her role as the first female coach of the Saint Michael’s College Field Hockey, Basketball, and softball teams.Even now she devotes herself to her hometown of Bakersfield, teaching Physical Education and Health at Bakersfield Elementary and coaching freshman basketball and JV softball at Enosburg High School.
Arlene has four children, Kevin, Catherine, Daniel and Elizabeth with husband, Mike O’Rourke ‘73.