Title IX, Then and NowJune 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.
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, 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.