Gail Koziara Boudreaux
When Ivy League women’s basketball was formally organized in the 1970s, Dartmouth was not an Ivy power. Then Gail Koziara Boudreaux came along.
A Parade Magazine basketball All-American in high school, Boudreaux won the ‘Dartmouth Book’ at her high school, which piqued the interest of the local alumni group. “They usually recruited for football but took a special interest in me,” she remembers. “There wasn’t a lot of recruiting of [women athletes] in those days.” That, combined with a “great campus visit, great coach [Chris Wielgus], and the fact that my high school teammate, Kathy DeLisle, was going,” convinced her to choose Dartmouth.
It was a propitious choice. A first-team All-Ivy selection all four seasons, Boudreaux led the Big Green to its first-ever Ivy title in 1979. “It was memorable because we won at Yale with only six players,” says Boudreaux. “We weren’t expected to win.” This soon changed.
Leading Dartmouth to Ivy championships her junior and senior year, Boudreaux compiled some amazing statistics along the way. She became Dartmouth’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder in both men’s and women’s basketball, with 1,933 points and 1,635 rebounds in 89 games. She also was named Ivy Player of the Year three straight seasons, and became a two-time Academic All-American and third team All-American as well.
Boudreaux’s most lasting basketball achievement, however, may be the momentum she imparted to the Dartmouth program. The team never won an Ivy championship before she arrived, won the title her sophomore through senior years, then proceeded to win the Ivy championship 12 out of the next 24 seasons. Later players, of course, played a crucial role in extending Dartmouth’s string of titles, most notably fellow four-time first team All-Ivy player Jayne Daigle, followed by Liz Walter, Sophia Neely and Katharine Hanks; But Boudreaux got it started.
She also starred in track, earning four first-team All-Ivy honors, as well as first-team All-American honors in 1982. She won four straight Heptagonal shot put championships and one discus title.
Boudreaux thrived on the busy athletic schedule. “I find it gives you structure and discipline” she notes, though it was “the hardest first semester freshman year.” One thing athletics prevented, though, was that “I couldn’t go abroad for language study.”
Graduating with majors in psychology and sociology, Boudreaux remedied not going abroad by playing basketball professionally in Europe for a year. “I played in Versailles,” she recalls, “and led the country in rebounding.” Returning to the United States she joined AETNA Insurance in its management development program, taking time off to earn an MBA from Columbia in 1989.
She spent 20 years at AETNA, then in 2002 was named president of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, She’s now the Executive Vice President for External Operations Health Care Service Corporation, which encompasses BC/BS of Illinois. “We’re responsible for over 11 million members,” says Boudreaux.
Her athletic accomplishments haven’t been forgotten. She still holds the Ivy League record for rebounds in a game (30), and Dartmouth named her to the Ivy League’s Silver Anniversary team in 1999. In 2006 she won an NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes “former student-athletes who have distinguished themselves since completing their college athletics careers 25 years ago.” Upon learning of the honor “I was really excited,” says Boudreaux. “It’s a great honor.”
“Sports play a huge role in defining who you are,” says Boudreaux. “I look back on those days as most formative.”
This story was written by Stephen Eschenbach in 2007 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.