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Playing their way through college. How young women seek out and hang onto sports scholarships

MARTHA REVIS would like to play her way through college. So far, however, the athletic recruiters haven't flocked to Lexington High School, where she has earned letters in field hockey, basketball, and softball.

Sports scholarships for women are out there, though, and in greater numbers than many may realize. Three representative scholarship holders appear in the photos on this page and in separate articles on what their awards have meant to them.

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Dave Revis, Martha's father, learned a lot when he started studying the annual scholarship guide published by the Women's Sports Foundation, a nonprofit New York-based organization devoted to promoting sports and fitness among girls and women. After feeding all the information into a computer, he discovered a marked increase in the number of athletic scholarships just since last year, when there were 21,000. In 1987, the figure will jump 15 percent to more than 24,000 at 775 schools. This runs right across the financial aid spectrum, from a partial scholarship at a small college to a full ride at a major state institution.

Basketball accounts for most women's scholarships (7,000), followed by volleyball (4,655) and track and field (2,911). Smaller numbers are available in everything from golf and tennis to fencing, skiing, and even badminton.

Like their male counterparts, the top high school basketball players are in such demand that they can sit back and wait for recruiters to come to them. On the other hand the good, but not exceptional, talents sometimes have to make their own way, whatever the sport.

``Young women in high school have to work harder at selling their abilities [than young men],'' says Mikki Flowers, associate athletic director at Old Dominion University.

The effort, of course, can pay off handsomely. Dave Revis figures his daughter might save him as much as $50,000 in college bills by landing a scholarship. With his assistance, therefore, she is sending out letters and r'esum'es. This is the strategy suggested by the Women's Sports Foundation.

Some girls opt to let the College Athletic Placement Service in Asbury Park, N.J., make the contacts. The service has been in business for 17 years, charges $400 to act as matchmaker with no guarantees, and estimates that 40 percent of its 400 to 500 clients are women.

It wasn't that long ago, of course, that the thought of women on athletic scholarships was an alien concept. That changed when several developments dovetailed during the early 1970s. The women's liberation movement took root, legislation was passed prohibiting sex discrimination in schools receiving federal aid, and a court suit successfully challenged the longstanding ``no scholarship'' rule for women athletes under intercollegiate athletic policy. Since then, women's programs have become increasingly ambitious at many schools - to the point where women are now allowed more athletic scholarships than men in certain sports. But this usually isn't seen as a sign of equality, since a major-college football program may give almost as many scholarships as the entire women's program.

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Old Dominion's Flowers doesn't believe the availability of scholarships has ever altered how hard women athletes play. ``Their competitive spirit and desire to win has remained unchanged, but the environment is more intense.''

Indirectly, the existence of scholarships has improved the skill level of women athletes by encouraging them to specialize in one sport.

Even so, there are plenty of all-around athletes like Martha Revis who continue to enjoy the pleasures of changing sports with the seasons. There's a place for them, too.

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