“She’s a pioneer in women’s athletics.” In the words of Dr. Jean Ficke, the dean of the Graduate School and a former coach of hers, Carol Blazejowski is revolutionary when speaking about women’s basketball. Blazejowski, also known as Blaze, began her playing career here at Montclair State in the 1970s, and went on to become one of the most talented players in the sport. She has since returned to her alma mater as the associate vice president for external relations and university advancement. Almost 40 years later she is still remembered for setting one remarkable record inside the hallowed walls of Madison Square Garden in 1978.
“I’ll never forget, it was a 10:30 a.m. game and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Who on earth is going to come to [a] women’s basketball game at 10:30 in the morning?’” Blaze said.
To her surprise, close to 12,000 people filled the seats.
“I don’t ever remember how it all happened until after the game, quite frankly, when the crowd was standing and roaring and yelling,” Blaze said.
In March of 1977, Blaze set a collegiate record for both sexes, putting up 52 points during a game against Queens College during a time where there were no 3-point shots. That record still stands to this day.
Blazejowski began what would inevitably become a Hall of Fame career at Montclair State in 1974, before the true implementation of Title IX. Despite the athlete’s immense talent, the state school seemed like the only option for Blazejowski.
“Montclair State was my only choice,” Blaze said, “There were no scholarships and quite frankly we were a middle class family, and we had no money to go to a better school.”
However, her magnitude of skill out-shined the reputation that her university may have had. She may have planted her roots at a small school in New Jersey, but she went on to make national headlines. Blaze led her team to the National Championship game to face University of California, Los Angeles and grabbed a few honors along the way, leading the nation in scoring during her 1976–77 season and in points per game the following year.
Whatever happened in the Panzer Gym was only the beginning of a whirlwind of a career. During her junior year, she set her eyes on a much bigger prize, the 1976 Olympic team, but came up short.
“That was a crushing blow for me, and at the time, I was going to hang up my sneakers,” Blaze said.
Obviously, this was not the case.
“She won’t tell you this, but I’ll tell you this, by rights she should have been on the ’76 team,” Ficke said.
Nonetheless, four years later, Blazejowski successfully landed a spot on the 1980 team and was able to call herself captain. But if anyone knows the story of the 1980 Olympics, Blaze wasn’t given the chance to wave the United States flag in Moscow that year. As a result of unstable U.S.-Russian relations, President Jimmy Carter boycotted the summer games that year.
She considered the president’s decision as another “crushing blow,” but said that her goal was ultimately to make the Olympic team and she did just that.
“Whether we played or not didn’t matter — now it doesn’t matter, then it did,” Blaze said. “I’ll always be an Olympian whether we competed or not.”
The boycotted 1980 games were Blaze’s last chance at a gold medal. Once she accepted any amount of money for playing, she was considered a professional athlete, deeming her ineligible for Olympic consideration.
“Now it’s just ironic that every athlete in the Olympics, no matter what sport it is, they’re all professionals,” the ballplayer said. “But that’s the way it goes, right?”
The first Olympic games to include professional athletes were eight years later in 1988. Though she never competed in the Olympics, Blaze did have the chance to represent her country in her USA jersey through another way. Along with playing in competitions worldwide, she participated in the Pan American Games and the Basketball World Championship for Women, both in 1979.
“Carrying USA on your back and hearing the national anthem, there’s no other feeling as great as that,” Blaze said.
With the stroke of a pen, Blaze became the highest paid athlete in the women’s professional league, signing a three-year contract with the New Jersey Gems. Unfortunately, those three years never became a reality due to the fact that the league folded after her first season. This move effectively ended her playing career but not her life in the basketball world.
Working her way up from the front office for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, she eventually earned the title of general manager and executive vice president. She explained that her transition into the world of sports business was an easy one, carrying the life skills she learned while playing basketball along with her.
“It taught you teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship and how to work well with others,” Blaze said, not forgetting to mention how important her competitive drive was as she moved forward.
But as Blazejowski said, all good things must come to an end. Blaze’s time at the Liberty came to an end in 2010 but fortunately, her connections at Montclair State never faded and she secured a job in College Hall only feet away from the courts she used to rule.
She hasn’t outgrown her basketball roots. She was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994, inducted into the Montclair State Hall of Fame and was a part of 2016’s New Jersey’s Hall of Fame class. She also teaches camps for young children to pass along her knowledge.
Despite what one may think, Blaze never wanted to coach the women’s team at her alma mater. She said she was never much of a coach because she expected too much from her players. Years later, she admits her relationship with the team could be better, but she always shows her support for her fellow Red Hawks.
Ficke couldn’t help but comment on the lack of recognition that Blaze receives on campus. She blamed it partly on the fact that she is a woman and partly on the fact that Blaze doesn’t seek adoration. She also blames it in part on the simple fact of how much time has gone by.
“Not everyone is always focused on what happened in 1977,” Ficke said, “but I would like to see Montclair State be a little more cognizant and recognize the magnitude [of Blazejowski’s success].”
Then she mentioned the banner hanging above Sprague Field for late NFL player and Montclair State alumnus Sam Mills, comparing their accomplishments yet inconsistency in recognition.
Almost 40 years later, her coach can’t stop speaking of her accomplishments. “She’s in the National Hall of Fame — you know the one where Michael Jordan is,” Ficke said. “Not the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame, that’s a pretty big deal.”