Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Title IX

Barbara Kraley Youel | Towpath Member Contributor

Barbara Kraley, Class of 1966 
Independence High School
It’s 1966 – The Independence High School (Ohio) yearbook presents its senior class numbering 138, 66 males and 72 females.  Let’s look at some of the activities listed under graduating senior Barbara Kraley’s name: Latin Club, National Honor Society, school newspaper, concert choir, GAA (Girls’ Athletic Association), and modern dance. See anything missing? No girls’ tennis? basketball? baseball? track? Maybe Barb was just a singing and dancing bookish writer who loved a dead language and shunned sports. Or, maybe there just weren’t any competitive sports to join.  (cross out the “maybe”)

It’s 1972 – Just 6 short years later, public schools such as Independence High would have to open sports to females. Inspired by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, various legal and legislative efforts would culminate in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
It states that:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Enacted by the 92nd United States Congress, effective on June 23, 1972, this act prohibited sex discrimination in any institution or school receiving federal monies, which included the Independence Public Schools, as well as thousands of other institutions nationwide. Come to be known simply as Title IX, this act forbade sex discrimination in many areas of society, but germane to this discussion is that in effect, it opened the door to full and equal participation for girls in high school and collegiate athletics.

It’s 1973 – As if a spectacular imprimatur were needed to thrust Title IX into public consciousness, on September 20 the most hyped “Battle of the Sexes” tennis exhibition match was played between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It is “often credited with sparking a boom in women’s sports.” ( Some 30,000 fans in Houston’s Astrodome plus an estimated 90 million TV viewers, watched the 29-year-old King “eviscerate” the 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.  Following this 1973 win, King’s superstar status in the US skyrocketed with endorsements and opportunities to found a women’s players union, sports magazine, advocacy group, team tennis league, win multiple major titles, and of course the crowning achievement, the opening of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York. (2006)

It’s 2014 – While most of us will not encounter such male/female public drama or fabulous tennis fame, we all have the opportunity to play the game we love. Many of the young women I now meet on the tennis courts have come through high school and college as bona-fide beneficiaries of Title IX. They have played competitive tennis as well as other sports. Some have heard about Title IX; others don’t know it at all, having taken the student/athlete role as a given, (was life ever any different?) and why not?  Would they ever believe that high school girls of some 50 years ago accepted the Pep Club and cheerleading as “what the girls did” and thought little of the boys’ potential fame and fortune (think athletic scholarships) as they played football, basketball, golf, baseball, and wrestled and ran. 

I ponder these memories not in resentment, but in quiet satisfaction that equal access is here to stay, and the world of women’s sports is based largely on talent, determination, ability, and family support, not de facto exclusion by gender.

As an older tennis player, having been introduced to this incredible sport in 2001, I can only guess where I would be today had competitive sports such as tennis or track been open to me fifty years ago. In the last 2 years I have also started running in area 5K’s, making some inroads in this sport as I occasionally place in my age group. This running, by the way, has helped me move a little better on the court, especially when playing those challenging singles’ matches against my 18-year-old opponents. I tell everyone that “I’m having my Title IX now” and I'm thankful for it!

Carpe Diem!

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