Title IX gave a high five last week as the 1972 federal law, which prohibits sex discrimination in academia and athletics, turned 50 years old.
However, the general theme from women who have lived on the playing fields for the past 50 years is that there is an obvious need for progress.
Muffet McGraw, who won two national titles at Notre Dame during her 32-year tenure as coach, speaks passionately about the women who still get let down.
“We have been fighting for equality for 50 years and you saw what happened just a year ago with the men’s and women’s tournaments. That was a revelation to many. For those in the fight, it was business as usual,” McGraw said.
McGraw referred to social media posts viewed by millions contrasting the facilities, amenities and food at the men’s and women’s Final Four sites.
For the men, the workout space was a huge ballroom filled with free weights, hand weights, and weight machines.
The women’s facility in San Antonio had 12 hand weights. Women complained about other inequities, including COVID-19 testing, food, and even scant gift bags.
The women’s tournament could not use the “March Madness” brand.
The outrage forced the NCAA to commission an external review that recommended significant reforms, including a combined men’s and women’s Final Four tournament and changes to the NCAA’s leadership structure. His president, Mark Emmert, announced his resignation in April, effective next year.
McGraw pointed to hiring disparities in athletic departments where women are often overlooked.
In NCAA Division I schools, only 15 percent have female athletic directors.
Indiana has two: at Ball State and Purdue Fort Wayne.
“We went from 14% to 41% of college athletes today. We’re over 50% enrolled, but we’re still way behind,” McGraw said.
Women make up nearly 60% of college enrollment but receive only 44% of scholarships and other opportunities, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.
About 41% of head coaches in the NCAA’s three divisions are women, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics reported in its recent Racial and Gender Report Card.
At Notre Dame, McGraw opted for an all-female coaching staff.
One of his former players, Megan Duffy, coaches a women’s team at Marquette University, including assistant coach Kelly Komara, a Lake Central graduate who won Miss Basketball honors in 1998.
He played on Purdue’s 1999 national championship team on a Title IX scholarship.
“For me, Title IX and what that means is just the starting line. We are not even close to the finish line,” said Komara.
“For my generation, at least our starting line is a little lower. My mother’s starting line wasn’t even at the stadium,” Komara said of her mother, Patti Komara, who opened a gymnastics school in the region in 1969.
Before Title IX, girls played sports at their schools, but competition rarely went any further, let alone at the state level.
In 1971, fewer than 300,000 girls played varsity track in high school and fewer than 32,000 played in college.
Margaret Kelly was in the trenches teaching physical education and coaching girls at Hammond Gavit High School in the 1970s.
“When Title IX was passed, it was the first time our administration couldn’t say ‘you’re not state-approved for that.’ Even after it happened, they said they didn’t have to do it.”
Kelly, from Portage, said she saw little change at her school in the first few years after the passage of Title IX.
“The athletic department started kicking and screaming, before they finally decided they had to do it. Some were very responsive and some were going to be difficult,” said Kelly, who retired in 1995.
Those early headwinds were tempered by a growing feminist movement. In 1973, tennis star Billie Jean King sparked pride and excitement when she defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets to win the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes.”
Meanwhile, coach Bobbi DeKemper’s East Chicago Roosevelt teams, which won state championships in 1977 and 1979, still practiced in a small non-regulation gym so the boys could use the main gym.
“Eventually we got to the main gym after the guys were done, like 5 pm,” DeKemper, of Portage, recalled.
Its star player, LaTaunya Pollard, became the region’s first Indiana Miss Basketball winner in 1979. She broke scoring records at Long Beach State, where she earned All-American honors twice and won the Wade Trophy in 1983.
With no pro ball options in the US, he headed to Italy to play.
DeKemper’s teams financed their expenses through candy sales and he said coaches often shared their stories of inequities, despite Title IX.
“Other coaches were going through the same thing. Sometimes we complained, but the complaints fell on deaf ears…”
The change took root for many.
Valparaiso High graduate Renee Turpa got an early taste of the benefits of Title IX when she played softball at Ball State and participated in the Women’s College World Series in 1975.
Turpa coached girls’ basketball for 17 years at Portage, High and became their all-time winningest coach. She came out of retirement seven years ago to become an assistant coach at Marquette High School.
“It’s amazing to me what we have now,” Turpa said. “Kids today don’t know anything about what we went through,” she said.
Today, she works with the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association to offer player showcases for girls.
“High school girls need to be seen by college coaches,” said Turpa, from Valparaíso.
The numbers are on the rise for women today.
About 3.4 million women play sports in high school today, compared to 32,000 five decades ago. In college, more than 215,000 women play on NCAA teams.
Although women outnumber men in universities, about 86% of schools still offer better sports opportunities for men.
Once they are out of school, professional sports opportunities are reduced.
The Women’s National Basketball League is growing in popularity, but wide salary disparities still drive players abroad, where salaries are much higher.
Attention to the issue grew after the arrest of WNBA Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner.
Griner, who plays in a Russian league, has been in a Moscow jail on an alleged drug smuggling charge since February. She faces up to 10 years in prison, if she is convicted.
Many women have been involved in sports for most of their lives. Even if they don’t reach the lofty pinnacles of fame, they appreciate the fun of competition.
Lake Central women’s soccer coach Genna Noel, 31, has been playing the sport since she was about 4 years old. She started out in a Schererville league and went on to play on the Lake Central varsity team.
She said the Lake Central facility is equitable with the boys team sharing playing time on the field.
What he has noticed most is the change in attitude of his players.
“I think now more than ever, girls at the high school level are finding their voice and standing up for themselves and being independent. I think the girls are a little stronger than me.”
Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.
What the law says:
“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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” —The first 37 words of Title IX
Crafted by Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and US Representatives Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Edith Green of Oregon, Congress passed Title IX as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. President Richard Nixon signed the measure.
Mink, a liberal Democrat, felt the sting of discrimination when her medical school applications were rejected a dozen times because of her gender. Instead, she became a lawyer, graduating from the University of Chicago Law School and winning election to the House in 1964. Bayh was inspired to lead the issue by his first wife, Marvella, who applied for the University of Virginia and was told, “Women don’t need to apply.”
Bayh is credited with insisting that athletics, called “activity” in the first 37 words of the law, be included.
After Mink’s death in 2002, Title IX was renamed the “Patsy T. Mink Equal Educational Opportunity Act.”