There’s a lot of press right now celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a portion of the Educational Amendments of 1972 that required federally funded institutions to offer equal opportunities based on sex. The measure wasn’t specifically about sports, it covered all areas of a school’s activities, but it has become known for the huge influence it had on women’s sports.
In the summer of 1972, when Title IX became law, I was anxiously awaiting the beginning of my freshman year of high school at a new high school in a new town. I knew nothing about women’s sports or educational amendments. I was wrapped up in my first summer job, making new friends and the cute boy who was the dishwasher at the restaurant where I worked. Growing up I had gone to watch boys play Little League baseball, school basketball and flag football, but there were no girls’ sports to watch or participate in. PE was the bane of our days – changing clothes in the community locker room, possibly getting sweaty – Ew! PE and sports were for rough-and-tumble boys, not for girls who wanted to look good and be popular – at least that’s the message I received from parents, schools and peers. Even throughout high school, as Title IX was being enacted, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for girls in organized sports, at least not in our little town, and the attitude was still that sports were for boys and those few girls who were considered to be “jocks”.
Flash forward twenty-five years to 1997. My oldest daughter was entering kindergarten and we signed her up for fall soccer. A few months later she played basketball. She was five years old and she was participating in sports. She was part of a team and she loved it. She was a natural athlete, so it made sense to involve her in sports, but I realized then the chasm between what had been available when I was five years old and what was available for my daughter. Might I have been a natural athlete? Could I have excelled in a team sport? Those questions remain unanswered because the opportunity simply wasn’t there for me to be able to open the door and find out.
My girls take athletics and their abilities for granted. They were, initially, amazed to find out that one short generation ago the view of girls and sports was so very different from what it is today. When I read about Title IX I actually become teary-eyed. My emotions well not only because of the pride and gratefulness I feel for my daughters’ athletic abilities, but also because of the little girl within me that never had the chance to test her athletic prowess, to run on a field, to be part of a team.