BY YANEEK SMITH
For young women all around the country, Thursday, June 23 marks a landmark date in our nation’s history as Title IX celebrates its 50th anniversary.
The 1972 initiative is a federal, civil-rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any education program that receives funding from the federal government. (It was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act when Mink died in 2002.)
Title IX is a law that has greatly impacted collegiate athletics, but high school sports have felt the ripple effect as well. Today’s female athletes owe a debt of gratitude to the law and have benefited from it since its inception and for the last five decades.
Danbury athletic director Keith Mora talked about the law’s impact on high school sports.
“We have to maintain compliance with the law,” he said. “Every school district is supposed to have a Title IX coordinator. From an athletic standpoint, it’s something that at a high school level, hopefully you’re always being compliant and it’s something we’re paying attention to and in terms of adding a sport. You want to maintain equal numbers.”
Today, youth softball and girls soccer programs, for example, are as popular as ever, and young women have the opportunity to play a sport devoid of males. It wasn’t that long ago that young girls had to play on baseball teams with nearly all of the athletes being boys, and soccer teams were co-ed in the ‘90s with very few females playing. Girls wrestling is gaining in popularity, as well.
“It’s interesting to think about. There were some girls in the ‘90s that played on boys teams and were tremendous athletes. At the younger level, whether you’re a boy or a girl, your athleticism is not usually all that different. There were tremendous girls that played on boys teams growing up,” said Mora. “It’s cool to see them get to take on teams of other girls — female teams versus female teams — and seeing who’s the best, rather than a girl having to compete on a boys team.
“We see girls going out for football, and that’s not something that really happens very much. That’s maybe the one sport you still see where girls cross over. A girl might have competed in a club girls wrestling league, but she had to compete against boys in high school. If she had that same opportunity as girls have today, she might’ve been a state champion, so it’s awesome to see them have these opportunities today.”
Mora, 33, a 2007 graduate of Fostoria High School, also talked about girls having collegiate and professional athletes to look up to.
“First and foremost, as a kid growing up, I don’t know if I ever saw a WNBA game on TV. You always saw NBA games, (but) I never remember seeing any of those WNBA games on TV. I don’t remember ever watching the Women’s College World Series as a little kid, but now I can turn on the TV tonight and I could’ve watched a WNBA game and a collegiate softball game on TV,” Mora said. “It’s awesome to see the progress. There’s still a humongous gap, but it’s come so far since Title IX’s inception. There are some things that have challenged women’s athletics, but it’s great that they’re getting the national spotlight and attention.”
Mora also referenced a story from last year that sprung up after it was shown that the NCAA’s accommodations for providing a weight room for female athletes compared quite poorly to the facility the men were given.
“It was an abomination,” he said. “The male athletes had a first-class weight room, and the women’s facility looked like a few dumbbells had been thrown together in a garage or something.”
In the last several decades, athletic directors have worked to provide girls sports with increased exposure. Port Clinton athletic director Rick Dominick talked about the work he and other athletic directors have tried to do.
“Across all conferences, in the Sandusky Bay Conference and in basketball, for example, we’ve worked to try and give the girls teams some Friday night games,” he said. “Now, if you pick up your schedule for boys and girls basketball, Sunday is about the only day you don’t see a game scheduled. For boys, the games were always on Fridays and Saturdays; for girls, the games were on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now the girls get three Friday night games (per season).
“I think we’re doing a very good job at Port Clinton of holding true to Title IX. It’s a testament to the Board of Education and our administration.”
Chris Rawski, who has coached softball at Oak Harbor for 11 years, talked about how women’s sports, especially softball, have expanded greatly in recent decades in offering teams and leagues to compete in during the summer, which has greatly helped the quality of play increase.
“Having done this at the high school level since 2002, and with travel leagues and stuff along the way, the biggest evolution has been the participation outside of high school with travel teams and recreation leagues,” he said. “It seems like most girls have had some experience with softball somewhere along the way, and there are so many opportunities to make themselves better. The game has grown every year. The Women’s College World Series, the ratings are getting better. I think women’s basketball and softball are two of the fastest-growing sports around.”
Oak Harbor athletic director Dan Hoover, who has worked for the school district for 35 years, talked about the progress the Benton-Carroll-Salem School District has made in recent decades. Softball became a varsity sport at Oak Harbor in 1987, girls tennis in 1993, girls golf in 1995 and girls soccer in 2003.
Hoover credited Pam Bechtel, who was the athletic director at Oak Harbor when he was hired in 1987, for her efforts in building and strengthening a solid foundation for girls sports at the high school.
“She was a female athletic director and there weren’t a whole lot of female athletic directors back then,” Hoover said. “She was a big proponent of girls sports, she really pushed getting the softball program going, and she coached the volleyball team.
“At one point, when we put in our weight room and wrestling room and auxiliary gym, we transformed one of our boys locker rooms into a girls locker room, somewhere in the late ‘90s, maybe 1997 or 1998. We have tried to stay up with the times, for the betterment of our sports and the betterment of our school. The young ladies deserve an opportunity to compete and I think it has helped tremendously with school spirit.”
Hoover talked about the progress of some of the programs.
“Just look at our softball program, look how far we’ve come from 1987 to the final four this year. The girls put a lot of time and effort into it, and it has really helped them grow,” he said. “It’s not just a thing where the girls are there. Now the girls are very athletic, and it’s great for our school.
“In soccer, we started with boys, then girls wanted to participate and (head coach) Lou Montano then added girls to the team. I think that helped the girls soccer program begin to flourish (later on). Renee Williamson became the coach — she was our first coach and she has coached the whole time for us. Renee was big with helping the program and making it what it is today.
“I feel like we have a good balance. The students respect the athletes whether it’s a male or female.”