Title IX, Then and Now

June 19, 2012

As a high school athlete, I took it for granted that at the start of each season I’d have a practice to attend, a uniform to wear, and a coach to direct my workouts. After all, students, teachers, and parents alike valued our sports teams, and like many of my peers, my participation in cross country, swimming, and track fit nicely into my image as a well-rounded student looking to attend a good college.

Back then, cheerleading was the only athletic opportunity girls had in the fall.

But it wasn’t always that way. Just ask my mom, who graduated from the same high school nearly three decades earlier, when Title IX was in its infancy. In the mid-1970s, even after the law passed, girls had neither the opportunity nor the support to do what the boys did on the playing field. Football was king in the fall — I grew up in the South — and girls had the option to either join the cheerleading squad or forgo athletics altogether. In the winter, girls could play basketball, and spring was the season for track and tennis. That was it. There was no women’s soccer, no softball, no volleyball, no golf.

These limited options weren’t for lack of interest. In fact, my mom recalls that team tryouts were extremely competitive. Girls wanted to play sports, but our school could only have so many cheerleaders on the sidelines of football games or basketball players warming the bench. Track was by far the most popular women’s team — with so many running and field events to fill, there was a place for everyone. Mom played basketball through her junior year, after which she joined the cheerleading squad — but like me, running was her real passion. In fact, she held school records in various track events until after I graduated!

In 2012, the football field is still the place to be on Friday nights, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm for our women’s softball team and our cross-country runners, male and female, who bring home region titles year after year. People come out en masse for both girls’ and boys’ basketball games, and our morning announcements are peppered with the accomplishments of our volleyball and girls’ soccer teams.

My mom, center, with her track teammates

My mom, as both a Savannah Country Day School student and parent, sees this as a product of girls stepping up to the plate, literally and figuratively, and proving that we can compete. I wholeheartedly agree. When Title IX opened the door for women athletes, we demonstrated that we belong on the field, on the court, and on the track. And now the SCDS Lady Hornets are out there winning state championships and letting everyone know that we’re worth as much time and attention as the boys we share gym space with.

I can’t say for certain how much of a direct effect Title IX had on the rules and regulations governing access to — and funding for — sports at my school, but I am positive that the overall shift in attitudes toward women’s athletics after 1972 led to the expanded opportunities I enjoyed. I believe that many students of my generation are lucky enough not to know it any other way, and for that I am thankful. I’m also certain that without equal play and all those chances I took for granted, I wouldn’t still be a multisport athlete today.

Following in my mom’s footsteps, I ran cross country and track all through high school.

By:   |   June 19, 2012

2 Comments

  1. Jess Kelly says:

    What a great post! I love the photos. A lot has changed since the 70s but the benefits of women’s athletics remain the same!

  2. Judith Turpin says:

    I went to high school in the 50′s. There were only intramural sports for girls at my high school and then mostly basketball and volleyball plus some “play days”. I did get to play on junior high soccer, basketball and softball teams that competed against other junior high schools because our junior high was small. I lived in Iowa and there, unlike most states, girls did play interscholastic basket ball in the small high schools. The girls rules were not like they are now. There were no intercollegiate sports for women at my university – only intramurals.

    It wasn’t always that way. My mother, who went to college in the 20′s, played intercollegiate soccer and basketball. That changed with the depression. My daughter, however, went to high school in the 1970′s and played sports and high school, college and beyond. They were opening up for her when she started junior high.

    It wasn’t only sports — when I was in college there were no women in the law school. That was not accidental. I enrolled in an upper division economics class only to be told by the professor that he didn’t have women in his class – the other two women dropped the class but I stayed. I endured hazing by the men in another class in that department where I was also the only woman. Title IX also helped my daughter academically as her university had been all male and still had few females when she entered in the 80′s- but they were actively recruiting talented women students by then.

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