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2017 Sycamore Distinguished Alumni Named

Joyce McCosham  

An Aviator alumni who broke barriers and paved the way for young females has been named the 2017 Sycamore Distinguished Alumni of the Year. Former student-athlete and longtime educator Joyce Chambers McCosham is this year’s Distinguished Alumni inductee.

Joyce’s service to Sycamore dates back to before the Sycamore Community Schools district had even officially been established. She has influenced countless lives in her more than 50 years in education, counseling, and community service.


SYCAMORE YEARS


World War II had just ended days before Joyce and her classmates graduated from Sycamore Township Union High School in 1945. During a time when American women were just beginning to enter the workforce and Armed Forces in unprecedented numbers, McCosham was doing her part to advance opportunities for female students right here in Sycamore. Looking back now, the 89-year-old doesn’t see herself as a pioneer.


“That is just the way I did things,” said McCosham. “If I thought something needed to be done, I went out and did it.”


When it comes to sports, there isn’t much she hasn’t tried. McCosham spent her early childhood years in the pool, on the dance floor and the softball field with her older brother’s friends. When her family moved to Blue Ash in 1939, naturally she was disappointed that there were no physical education classes at the two-room Plainfield Schoolhouse at the corner of Cooper and Plainfield Roads.


She recalls being approached by a teacher in seventh grade who was hesitant to ask her if she would join the boys’ softball team. They were short a player and the boys wanted to know if she would play with them but her teacher didn’t know if it was appropriate.


“I told that teacher that I played baseball with them every day at lunch,” McCosham said. “What was the difference?”


The same thing happened again in high school when the male teachers formed a team for the Hamilton County Track Meet. Once again, Joyce was asked to participate as one of the guys. But there was still one thing unsettling to McCosham: the lack of athletic options for women.


“I noticed the boys’ basketball team would go play in the gym when they had free time and I thought, ‘If they can go, why can’t we? The girls should get time too,” McCosham said.


With the blessing of Principal Roy Kennedy, McCosham established the first physical education classes for female students, teaching her fellow classmates how to play volleyball and basketball every day during the sixth bell.


One of her favorite memories from those years was playing baseball against the Sycamore High staff.


“I was so impressed with the teachers at Sycamore,” said McCosham. “It was amazing to see them being humans instead of teachers. I hadn’t seen them in that way before.”


It was about this time that she realized she had received her calling to be a physical education teacher. But getting a college education was going to be difficult. The U.S. was in the middle of World War II. Gas, even food was being rationed. Her stay-at-home mother had been gone to work at a war plant to make ends meet.


McCosham did her part by selling war stamps in homeroom. She also served in the Civil Air Patrol as a drillmaster, where she learned defense tactics in case of attack and Morse Code.


During her senior year, McCosham petitioned her principal again for a place for teens to socialize and escape from the wartime troubles. The Montgomery Business Men’s Association donated their store front meeting space for a Teen Canteen.


“Everyone was very patriotic and no one complained,” McCosham said. “We didn’t have a yearbook and some weeks we couldn’t print the school newspaper because of ink shortages. But we did everything we could think of to support our troops.”


Meanwhile, McCosham continued her own uphill battle to achieve her dream of getting a college education. Her father did not believe that women should go to college.


“When I told him I wanted to become a phys ed teacher, he didn’t like it,” McCosham said. “But I told him I wasn’t asking him for his blessing. I had already made up my mind and would pay my way through school.”


UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI


In the summer of 1945, McCosham began attending the University of Cincinnati. She worked between classes at the Engineering Library, in the evenings at a nearby meat packing plant, and on the weekends at Hugh Watson Airport, where she would occasionally hitch a ride with a pilot. Still, she managed to stay involved, playing intramural basketball and swimming on the Varsity Swim team. She held offices in the Teachers College Tribunal and Arete Organization and was a cheerleader and member of Kappa Delta Pi National Honorary Society.


McCosham graduated in 1948 with her bachelor’s in Health and Physical Education. A week after graduation, she married her college sweetheart, William “Corky” McCosham.

TEACHING CAREER


That same year, McCosham began her teaching career at North College Hill High School where she taught physical education and health classes. She also served as a women’s coach and athletic director.


In 1952, McCosham moved to Mother of Mercy High School. She spent the next 40 years teaching physical education and coaching nearly every sport. She organized free lessons for students and faculty from pro athletes, like hall of fame golfer Carol Johnson, and students versus staff games.


“Every place I went, I took what I learned about teachers at Sycamore with me,” said McCosham.


During her time at Mercy, McCosham also taught at Edgecliff College for 15 years, instructing teachers on how to teach their own physical education classes. The majority of her students were nuns.


“Some of the sisters would be in their habits and headdresses,” McCosham laughed. “They would be running around, crushing their bibs and tripping over their skirts. I finally was able to convince their Mother Superior to be allowed to wear gym shoes.”


In 1972, McCosham earned her Master’s in Counseling and Administration from the University of Cincinnati, thanks to the encouragement of her husband. She would later become the assistant principal at Mercy but insisted that in her contract she would still be allowed to teach at least one physical education class.


“You do more counseling sometimes in the gym than behind a desk,” McCosham said. “If the students felt comfortable in my class, they were more likely to open up and talk to me.”


In 1992, she became a counselor at Oak Hills High School. She served as Chair of the Scholarship Program there until retiring in 2000.


OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS


When she wasn’t in the classroom McCosham was still teaching. She taught evening swim and lifesaving classes for 25 years. She taught nursing students State required physical education classes at Bethesda and Deaconess Schools of Nursing.


McCosham and her husband also devoted decades of service to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission teaching and coaching special activities, including the pony chorus dance line.


She also served 20 years on the Board of Directors of the Greater Cincinnati Counseling Association, including serving as president.


Once an Ave, always an Ave, McCosham served 20 years on the Sycamore Class Reunion Committee. She still meets every month with her Sycamore Girls luncheon group.


RETIREMENT YEARS


In 2000, McCosham retired from education. She would probably still be teaching if she hadn’t wanted to go on a three-week long African safari with friends.


Joyce’s “can do” spirit has served her well in her golden years. Despite losing her soulmate to cancer nearly 30 years ago, she has never given up on living life herself. She has traveled all over the world and done it all from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to landing on a Glacier in a helicopter to parasailing and hot air balloon races.


“If I didn’t know how to do something, I found a way,” McCosham says. “If I was somewhere and someone asked me to try something, I thought, ‘Why not?’”


At the age of 89, she still plays golf and goes bowling with what she calls her “fun bunch.” She slalom waterskiied until she was 65 years old. She says the only reason she isn’t still skiing is because she “ran out of decent boat drivers.”


A lifelong Bearcat, McCosham is a member of the C-Club and Golden Bearcat Club.


RECOGNITION


McCosham has received numerous awards for her work including the MARQUIS Who’s Who of American Women. Former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls even signed a proclamation declaring June 5, 1998, to be Joyce McCosham Day in Cincinnati. In 1999, she was named one of the University of Cincinnati’s Distinguished Alumni. Despite all the recognition, she finds the Sycamore Distinguished Alumni induction to be one of the most special.


“I didn’t expect this, the magnitude of it,” she says.


Her proudest achievement is her family. Her eyes light up when she talks about summers at the lake with her children and spending so much time working side by side with the love of her life.

She has two daughters and six grandchildren who all attended Sycamore. She has nine great-grandchildren with another on the way. With any luck, they’ll become Aviators, too.


“If I could describe Sycamore in three words, it would be a fantastic human experience,” McCosham says. “I hadn’t had the same experience elsewhere.”


Joyce McCosham will be honored at the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Reception on May 21 at the Original Montgomery Inn from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.oursafa.com or by calling Sycamore High School at 513-686-1770 and ask for the Alumni Office. McCosham will also be speaking at Sycamore High School’s Commencement on May 22 at the Cintas Center.