Saturday was the official 40th anniversary of Title IX which stated: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
The focus was on educational opportunities for women, but the most notable side effect was to their participation in sports. Prior to Title IX there was no incentive to provide athletic scholarships to women.
I was 8 ½ years old when Title IX legislation was signed on June 23, 1972. There were not any sporting opportunities other than gymnastics, swimming, and baton twirling (in which my sister excelled) that I was aware of at that time for girls my age in our immediate area. But, I wanted to play ball – baseball or softball, I didn’t really care – I just wanted to play! The local Little League was boys only – I know there were cases around the country of girls getting to play with the boys, but my parents weren’t going to push that envelope. The YMCA did have a girls’ softball league – but you had to be 10 years old – which meant I had to wait two more summers after Title IX passed to play organized ball as changes related to Title IX didn’t happen immediately.
I learned quite a few life lessons during that summer of 1974 playing softball at the “Y” – maybe subject matter for another post some time. I was very excited when I learned that our local Little League would include Girls’ Softball in 1975! I don’t know the details around this addition, but I always associated it with Title IX at least indirectly. Thus, I played in the inaugural season of the North Shore Little League Softball in Houston. The age divisions then are different than today. That first year there were 4 Minor League (7-9 year olds) teams and 4 Major League (10-12 year olds) teams, so approximately 100 girls suddenly had the opportunity to play organized ball.
I remember being both upset and happy that my younger sister got to play organized ball at an earlier age than I did! A Junior\Senior League (13-15 & 16-18 year olds) was added the next year, so I continued playing Little League Softball until I was in high school. However, we did not have a high school softball team – which is a real shame because we had some really good softball players. The school did add a softball team a couple of years after I graduated.
I also got my first paying job (which was not babysitting) as a result of playing Little League Softball; I was the official scorekeeper for the 13-15 year old league in 1980. I was paid $4/game. This was before the PC, so I calculated all the stats by hand in a notebook. Okay, I probably used my TI-30 calculator, and then entered the results in my notebook! It probably worked out to about 50 cents/hour after all of that; but, hey, I was having fun and now had something to put on my resume’!
No, I didn’t play softball at the collegiate level; although I did participate briefly in open tryouts my sophomore year until I scored poorly on a Calculus exam and decided I’d better refocus on my education! The education I was pursuing was in Computer Science, not in Nursing or Education – the traditional fields entered by women prior to Title IX. My parents raised me to believe that I could do and be anything I wanted and I believed them; but Title IX enabled that belief.
The implementation of Title IX has been far from perfect over the years, but it has helped to level the playing field (pun intended) for women (and girls) to have similar opportunities to their male counterparts. The experiences and lessons learned from playing team sports translate directly into the rest of our lives. Additionally, the female role models now available in the sporting world and the rise of professional leagues such as the WNBA have changed the landscape for today’s 8 ½ year olds. My sports hero at that age was Johnny Bench. Ask an 8 ½ year old girl today who is her sports hero and she’ll likely respond Jennie Finch or Brittney Griner, or any of the many, many other notable female athletes of the past few years.
I’m thankful to the pioneers of Title IX for having the courage to change expectations and therefore lives.