Black and white photo of four Aggie rifle team members standing next to a ferry.
The Aggie rifle team aboard ferry to match. Left to right: Sven Roemelt, Sergent Pat Schoen, Audrey West, and John West (George West’s brother).

Meet the first woman Aggie to letter in a varsity sport

Celebrating 50 years of Title IX

Quick Summary

  • Audrey West ’53 became the first woman to earn a UC Davis varsity letter. This year, UC Davis Athletics is celebrating 50 years of Title IX and hundreds of women athletes have followed West’s example and lettered in an Aggie sport.
  • Today UC Davis Athletics has grown to support 345 female student-athletes across 16 teams.
Audrey West sitting outside on a wooden chair with her daughter and son by her side, holding her UC Davis varsity-letter jacket.
Audrey West, proudly holds her Circle C varsity letter sweater from 1953 accompanied by daughter Kendra Williams and son Mark West.

In 1952, Aggie Rifle Team shooter Audrey West ’53 became the first woman to earn a UC Davis varsity letter – and just a year later would go on to place third in the national college rifle championships. 

There were no intercollegiate women's sports at what was then the College of Agriculture at Davis. The rifle team seemed like a good diversion from West’s intense course of study, animal husbandry.

"I didn't even know there was such a thing as a rifle team at the school, but I had a friend who said, ‘I want to go shoot, but I don't want to be the only girl on the team,’” West, 90, remembers.

West made UC Davis history and helped pave the way for gender equality in athletics 20 years before Title IX became national law. 

This year, UC Davis Athletics is celebrating 50 years of Title IX with a retrospective of women’s sports at the university. 

Since the landmark gender-equity law’s passage, hundreds of women athletes have followed West’s example and lettered in an Aggie sport. Today UC Davis Athletics has grown to support 345 female student-athletes across 16 teams. 

Shooting for the top spot

But it all started with this sharpshooter. At the 1953 championships West scored 279 out of 300, leading the Aggies to a 14th place finish against 200 college teams nationwide. 

The June 4th issue of The Davis Enterprise that year noted, “The Aggie Varsity Rifle Team has gained national recognition this semester, due in large part to the skill of one of its coeds.”

West was known for her marksmanship despite being new to the sport. 

“I had never even had a gun in my hands until then,” she said.

West notes that she did not receive any pushback for being a woman athlete.

“As far as I know, as long as I could hit the bullseye, everybody was fine with it,” she said. “We were just doing our jobs.” 

West credits a lot of the lessons learned during her college days for her activities such as rifle team. She also remembers the feeling of inclusion on a campus that had an enrollment of only 1,343.

Aiming for Davis
Black and white photo of Audrey West sitting at the livestock pens holding puppies in 1952.
Audrey West with puppies at livestock pens in 1952.

Born Audrey Hall, West grew up in Pasadena and attended Muir High School. Although she was passionate about mathematics and mechanics, she decided to study animal husbandry at what was then the College of Agriculture at UC Davis.

During her undergraduate years, she met and married fellow rifle teammate George West ’53, D.V.M. ’57, M.P.V.M. ’83. George worked at the California Department of Food and Agriculture and was a beloved faculty member in the Master of Preventative Veterinary Medicine program at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

The pair was married for more than 61 years, until George passed away in 2014. They have four children: George Jr. ’79, Audrey Lynn ’80, and Kendra ’86, M.S. ’90 also attended UC Davis. Their son Mark graduated UC Berkeley, where he joined the rifle team like his parents.

West attributes many of the lessons learned at UC Davis for her various endeavors in Yolo County. She eventually pursued her original passions of mathematics and mechanics, teaching first at Yuba College in Woodland and Marysville and making a local name for herself as an engine- and lawnmower-repair expert.

This story is adapted from UC Davis Athletics.