Title IX’s 50th Anniversary: How 37 Words Changed Female Sports

First of a four-part series.

Title IX was signed on June 23, 1972, by President Nixon. 50 years later, the 37 words on the Civil Rights bill have revolutionized the atmosphere for female athletes in the United States.

Title IX requires that no person be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination on the bases of sex under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Although Title IX has helped boost educational aspects for women, the largest impact has been in sports.

Seven percent of high school athletes, or one out of 27, across the nation were women in 1965. In 2016, two in every five high school athletes are girls — or 40 percent.

Although the numbers have spiked to an all-time high, female athletes had several hurdles in the beginning.

Before Title IX, women were not offered athletic scholarships, and there were no women’s championships. In addition, there was a lack of funding and proper equipment.

A few women led the push toward Title IX. In the late 1960s, Gloria Steinem, a political activist, traveled the country organizing and lecturing at multiple feminist protests.

Also, Bernice Sandler, nicknamed the godmother of Title IX, didn’t receive a fellowship at the University of Maryland because she was married and too pushy. She researched to see if that was discriminatory. When she realized the Civil Rights Act included sex discrimination, she pushed for equality for women in education.

And, Rep. Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii wrote the majority of the bill, sponsored it and introduced it into Congress in 1972.

Bainbridge High School’s cross country coaches Anne Howard Lindquist and Dana Amore grew up when Title IX was in its infancy.

Amore grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. In fifth grade, she was one of two girls who ran on an age-group track team. She joined the team since her school did not provide several sports to girls yet. When she joined the University of Michigan track team in the early 1980s, the school began to progress toward equality.

“Michigan had a running club but was the last school in the Big 10 to make it a varsity sport for women,” Amore said. “It was embarrassing because Michigan is a powerhouse.”

The U.S. Executive Branch began issuing regulations requiring every educational institution that receives federal financial assistance to be inspected and file documents ensuring its compliance with Title IX.

Amore recalled Michigan’s athletic administration would place posters and signs stating, “Women’s Weight Room” and “Women’s Locker Room.” However, Amore knew it was a gimmick for the compliance officers.

“We had two locker rooms, and our locker room was the men’s visiting locker room,” Amore said.” Also, the women used to travel in a van everywhere. “I remember one meet in Iowa, the women got to fly with the men because the Big 10 was at the same place. Otherwise, we had to drive with our coach as the driver.”

Amore graduated from Michigan in 1983. In 1984, the Judicial Branch ruled that Title IX’s requirements apply to any educational institution that receives federal financial aid through grants provided to its students.

Therefore, universities that offered athletic scholarships were required to follow Title IX and provide equal opportunities to all students. However, Lindquist noticed that did not begin in her first couple of years at the University of Portland. Instead, she transferred to the University of Washington and learned her coach at Portland was caught breaking Title IX rules.

“I was looking around and thinking why as an underclassmen will I be one of the faster women on the team,” Lindquist said. “So I transferred out to Washington and had a whole bunch of women to train with. Later, I heard the coach from Portland was fired because of Title IX violations. He was using the funds for women’s scholarships on the men’s side.”

In 1988, the needle began to push in favor of women. The Legislative Branch passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, clarifying a “program or activity” for purposes of Title IX and other civil rights laws.

Unfortunately, Title IX took a step backward a few months later when President Reagan vetoed the legislation. His belief was that it “vastly and unjustifiably expands the power of the federal government over the decisions and affairs of private organizations.”

Therefore, the next generation of female athletes had their own hurdles. WIAA’s assistant executive director BJ Kuntz graduated from Wenatchee High School in 1987. During her career, she had the ability to play four sports. However, she did not get the same equal access as the male sports.

“When I played high school volleyball, our high school tournament was played in high school gyms with eight teams. Now, they are played in larger arenas with sixteen teams,” Kuntz said.

Congress then overrode Reagan’s veto by passing the legislation with a two-thirds majority vote. By the 1990s, Title IX took small steps of progress.

South Kitsap High School’s athletic director, Lindsey Foster, was the first generation to begin experiencing a sense of equality. When she grew up, she played among the boys in Little League and basketball. As she got older, she focused on basketball and took advantage of the pioneers of Title IX.

“Women who came before me were fighting for an opportunity,” Foster said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be in this seat and the experience I had. I was a benefactor of Title IX. We had 15 full-ride scholarships available for the women’s basketball team at Northern Arizona.”

Girls prep sports have also flourished thanks to Title IX. Participation increased more than 1000 percent from 1972-2016. In addition, Washington has seen progress in new opportunities for female athletes. For instance, Washington sanctioned girls high school wrestling in 2007.

Participation numbers have gone up, but they have still yet to reach the number of boys participating in 1972. In 2016, girls made up 3.34 million participants in high school, while 3.66 million boys participated in sports in 1972.

Although the first 50 years made a difference, it is only the beginning.

“Are we where we want to be? No,” Foster said. “But are we further along? Absolutely. We must know where we came from and progress forward for the next generation.”

Bernice Sandler is called the Godmother of Title IX.
Rep. Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii wrote much of Title IX.
Uniforms sure have come a long way in the past 100 years, as these two historical photos attest.