Peg Rees. Photo by Todd Cooper.

The Pursuit of an Authentic Life

UO Softball’s public address announcer Peg Rees’s story echoes through the lives of a generation of young sportswomen 

Peg Rees walked into the press box at Jane Sanders Stadium on a warm Friday evening and was greeted by reporters and Oregon athletic personnel. 

She’s done this for the past 27 years, settling in behind the microphone for another University of Oregon softball game. 

Rees opened the window in front of her seat, letting the sounds of fans entering the stadium and the teams warming up below filter into the press box. Taped to the edge of the window is a handmade “jinx factor” warning sign — a reference to the “announcer’s jinx” in which the moment an announcer notes a notable play or streak, the opposite happens. 

Laughing, Rees, whose short, grey hair hints at her age, 65, cracked a joke: “You’re going to make the old woman work.”

In spring on the UO campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, students and community members can hear Rees’s voice reverberating through the air, bouncing off university buildings and mingling with the sounds of campus life. From February to May, her voice becomes a part of the landscape.

“Welcome to Jane Sanders Stadium, the home of Oregon softball,” her voice rings out at the start of every game.

Before COVID-19 and again someday when sports return, Rees is the public-address announcer for Oregon softball, soccer and volleyball. But more than that, she’s been a staple in the Oregon athletic community for more than three decades, inspiring female students and athletes, first as an assistant coach before heading to the Department of Physical Education and Recreation because of a homophobic head coach.

Rees has seen an entire generation of young women cycle through athletics at Oregon. Some of her first athletes — now well into adulthood — are testaments to Rees’s lasting impact, stretching beyond the fences of Jane Sanders or the walls of the old McArthur Court — where she coached volleyball.

“All of us felt the same way about Peg,” says Dawnn Eikenberry, one of Rees’s former volleyball athletes. “She was revered, but she lived up to it.”

Before becoming a coach or even a collegiate athlete, Rees, who grew up in Compton, California, started playing softball when she was 11. She had a reputation for being the best athlete in the neighborhood, she says, but still always had fewer opportunities than her two younger brothers when it came to sports.

“You’re a great athlete, Peggy,” she recalls people saying to her, “but you can’t play on this team. You’re a girl.”

She was in high school when Title IX passed, requiring schools to equitably fund and support women’s programs. At Oregon for college, she was a three-sport athlete (volleyball, basketball and softball) and sat on a committee to help the university implement Title IX.

Even with Title IX, access for women and girls in sports was limited, and opportunities continued to fall short of those for men. Despite the ongoing discrimination and unequal access, Rees continued to pursue sports because of her passion and love for athletics.

“She didn’t get the opportunities that even we got,” Eikenberry says. “She just played sports because she loved them.”

After graduating, she coached the three sports she played at the high school level for seven years before returning to Oregon to pursue a master’s degree in women in sports. While there, she secured a job as a graduate coaching assistant for Oregon volleyball, and eventually was hired as an assistant coach for the program.

Rees was a constant support for the young women on her team, acting as an “aunt” or “mother” to them. 

“Peg was the first person we called when we got in trouble,” Eikenberry says, laughing.

Molly Barry, another one of Rees’s former athletes who was in the same class as Eikenberry, says Rees would wear a fanny pack to away games and made sure the women had everything they needed.

“We needed her to show up for us and she did,” Barry says. “Over the years, being an advocate for women’s athletics, for fair treatment on all bases.”

But all that time Rees was hiding a part of herself, remaining closeted as a lesbian under the volleyball program’s head coach, Gerry Gregory, whom she says was homophobic. She feared if the coach knew how she identified, he would fire her, so she hid that part of her identity from him.

“There are some things that are private,” Gregory says now, “and she obviously didn’t feel confident in talking about them with me.

“I trusted her maximally, and I really felt like we had a great relationship and we still do,” he adds, “but I know feelings run deep, and I know there are probably some things she just felt like she couldn’t speak to me about and I understand that. But her position was very, very special on our team.”

Gregory, who describes himself as a committed believer in Christ, says her position was never in danger; Rees believes it was.

“I didn’t want him to have the power and the control over my career,” she says. “And so, I kept it from him; I held the control. But I paid a price.”

Rees hid a part of herself from the people around her in order to stay in the field she loved, but eventually had to prioritize her wellbeing.

“If you think about how awful that is for her, that she had to leave something that she loved,” Eickenberry says, getting choked up. “She loved coaching, but she didn’t want to coach under those circumstances. I think she loved the university more than her own personal ambition, because she could’ve gone and coached somewhere else. Absolutely she could’ve, but I think that she loved the University of Oregon and just couldn’t stand to be listening to what Gerry Gregory had to say, which was quite honestly, a bunch of nonsense.

“I think that was Peg’s way of just finally being heard,” she says of Rees’s departure. “I think she was finally heard. A lot of people just took for granted that that wasn’t as hard as it was. She made it look easy.”

Rees says she and Gregory parted on good terms and that, despite the pain he caused her, she loved him like family.

“You don’t always agree with people that you love,” she says, “I loved him but I disagreed with him on a pretty significant piece of my life. It was hard because of that.”

As she was deciding to leave coaching, Oregon’s Athletic Director Bill Byrne and head football coach Rich Brooks held a press conference at the Hilton in Eugene to address an anti-gay ballot measure. 

Rees went, wanting to know if her job was at stake. Gathered in the lobby, Rees and 40 other guests listened to what Byrne would say.

“We want to say that every athlete, every coach, every employee in the athletic department is welcome and has a home,” Rees recalls him saying. “And we respect everyone and we are against this measure.”

Rees began to cry as she realized that even if she couldn’t be an assistant coach under Gregory, she still had a home in athletics at Oregon.

It was shortly after, in 1993, that Rees decided to leave coaching. She realized the price of not being publicly out as a lesbian wasn’t worth the emotional and relational toll it was taking.

“It was actually making me sick to not be who I really was in the world,” she says.

 She transitioned into the P.E. and rec department and started to live more authentically, as she says. She taught tennis, swimming and self-defense classes, among others.

Even now, though she’s technically retired, she still teaches a three-credit Women in Sports class every fall. There, she is able to engage with students, including female athletes, about sports issues such as representation, sexuality and sexism, as well as advocate for equity in women’s sports.

As the public-address announcer at Jane Sanders, she actively participates in athletics at Oregon, the voice in the sky calling attention to female athletes.

“I want to at least be on the edge of it,” Rees says of collegiate athletics. “I’ve found a way to live on the edge.”

When she thought she didn’t have a place in sports as a lesbian, Rees fought for one for herself. Looking around Rees’s small campus office, it is clear that she’s managed to do that.

Behind her desk are softballs gifted to her from various teams over the years, and on the wall are lined awards recognizing the impacts she’s made on campus: “One Oregon Award,” “Martin Luther King, Jr. Award” and “Bridges Panelist Award.” 

There’s a volleyball poster from a team she coached that features athletes she still sees and a motivational poster that reads, “Risk.” 

On the windowsill sits a picture of Rees back in her coaching days with friend and then-co-assistant coach Cathy Nelson in a stained glass Oregon picture frame.

“She’s universally loved,” Nelson says of Rees, “because she takes the time for people and she makes sure that they know that she cares for them.”

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