A Belated Happy Birthday, and Thank You, to Title IX!

I was away in Puerto Rico at the ABA Litigation Section’s Spring Leadership meeting when the 40th anniversary of Title IX occurred earlier this week on June 23.  Title IX is the landmark legislation that outlawed discrimination between men’s and women’s educational programs, and perhaps its most well-known benefit has been the expansion of opportunities in high school and college athletics for girls and women.  Title IX required schools to equalize the resources spent on male and female sports teams, and in research published in 2008 by the University of Pennsylvania entitled “Beyond the Classroom,” the results at the high school level were eye-opening:  in 1972, the ratio of high school girls in athletics was a paltry 1 in 27, but by 1978, it had jumped to 1 in 4.

I was one of the high school girls in those statistics, and as a scrawny freshman, a member of Triton Central High School’s first girls basketball team in 1975.  In basketball-crazy Indiana, it was what every small town like mine focused on in the winter, and I was lucky that my closest girlfriends were good athletes and encouraged me to get involved.  We were proud when, in my senior year, the school purchased spiffy white basketball uniform tops to go with our original green tops, so that we now had home and away jerseys.  It didn’t go unnoticed to anyone on our team, including our parents, that the boys basketball team had always had home and away jerseys and shorts, along with warm-up pants, warm-up overshirts, and warm-up jackets, but we took our victories where we could get them.  One thing we could not get in those years was equal access to the gymnasium for practice after school, and so the girls always had to practice before classes so that the boys could have the more convenient after-school practice session.  Title IX might have mandated equal spending, but it didn’t result in equitable scheduling back in those days.

But we didn’t let any of that stop us, and because we were blessed with some incredibly talented players, while the rest of us were hardworking, our teams achieved great success.  The highlight of my senior year was our team’s double overtime victory over Shelbyville High in the finals of the sectional round during the third year of Indiana state girls basketball tournament.  There were no divisions based on school size; Shelbyville was much larger than we were, and we had never beaten them before.  I went to the free throw line with seven seconds left in the first overtime, trailing by one point, and made the first shot, moving us on to the second overtime, where we pulled away.  We were the first team in the history of Triton Central to win a sectional tournament in any sport, boys or girls, and the last time I checked, our team’s picture was still on the wall of the high school gymnasium.

When our team bus pulled away from the high school the next Saturday morning to head to our game at the next round of the tournament, a long line of cars queued up behind us to drive to the game and cheer us on, for the first time ever.  For a group of girls who had spent the last four years playing in front of mostly empty stands containing supportive parents and a few friends, it was an incredible thrill to realize that our efforts had generated widespread enthusiasm and encouragement.  We lost the game that day, but I think we won the battle overall, and Title IX made all the difference.

An article in Forbes commenting on Title IX’s broader impact outside of high school sports noted the following statistics from the University of Pennsylvania study:

  • Sports participation, overall, is associated with 0.4 years more education and 8% higher wages, after controlling for student’s ability.
  • Title IX is associated with a 3% rise in women’s college attendance, and a 2 percentage point rise in the probability of getting a four-year degree.
  • Title IX is associated with a 2% increase in women’s employment.
  • Title IX is associated with a 1.5% increase in the numbers of women in male-dominated fields.

What’s critical is that these gains did not come at the expense of boys, whose participation in sports, educational attainment and wage growth remained steady over this period. Title IX not only expanded women’s opportunities, but actually narrowed the achievement gap between women and men.”

The confidence I gained and the lessons I learned as a high school athlete undoubtedly helped me become the person that I am today, and I’m grateful for the members of Congress who in 1972 passed Title IX to make it all possible.



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