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Title IX: Half a century of equality or a continuing battle?

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE ATHLETE Liza Toll, shown at the start of a 60-meter dash, appreciates the pioneering work of the female athletes who took advantage of Title IX and made her participation in college sports possible. Photo Credit: Zander Kessler

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark in the pursuit of equitable education for men and women in the United States — Title IX.

Title IX, a federal law that went into effect on June 23, 1972, prohibits all institutions receiving federal funding to discriminate based on sex in educational opportunities and activities. The inclusion of the word “activities” called for equal opportunity, facilities and coaching for both men’s and women’s sports — a law that was the first of its kind.

However, the lack of infrastructure, funding, female coaches and organizational precedents made that immediate and effective roll out of women’s sports at American colleges and high schools highly improbable.

LONGTIME MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE coach Missy Foote was a college athlete herself when Title IX went into effect in 1972. She remembers the uphill battle she and her female peers faced in gaining equity with men’s sports.

Missy Foote, a Middlebury College Athletics Hall of Fame member, started at Springfield College in 1970, two years before Title IX went into effect. She recalls how she and other female athletes were treated at the advent of Title IX.

“We were told that we were now allowed to use the men’s weight room, which we never ended up using anyway as it smelled horrible,” she said.

Katherine DeLorenzo, Middlebury College’s assistant director of athletics and senior woman administrator for athletics, explained some of the reason that growth in women’s sports was slow.

“Women’s sports lacked a group of already existing expert and seasoned coaches or old, wise resources the kind of which could be found in men’s sports,” she said.

Both Foote and DeLorenzo would have liked more female role models in the form of female coaches or administrators when they were growing up as young women in sports.

“I wished I had a role model,” Foote said. “I made it up as I went along as I had no one to look up to or follow.”

For many present day observers, that is what makes the resolve and grit of these women even more admirable. They were tasked to organize and structure women’s sports from scratch with no historical precedents of an organized establishment.

Foote started coaching at Middlebury College in 1977 when the college was adding facilities for women’s sports but had a small pool of potential coaches.

“I was coaching two sports in the same season,” she said. “I would get out of the pool from swimming practice and run to the basketball courts, leaving me no time to get dinner.” Coach Foote would sometimes ask her players to fetch her dinner as she would juggle her multiple responsibilities.

DeLorenzo, who graduated from Goucher College in 1990, could see the difference that female trailblazers like Foote and countless others made to her athletic experience and accounted for Title IX’s successes.

“Late ’80s were the first graduating classes that felt the most positive impact of Title IX,” DeLorenzo said. “Professionalization of all jobs under the umbrella of women in athletics was the key. That created opportunities and role models.”

As the effects of Title IX took root over the 1980s and ’90s, and more money and better facilities started flowing to programs for girls and women, those women participating in sports felt the change.

KATE LIVESAY, MENTORING women athletes as Middlebury College women’s lacrosse coach, said she benefited from the growth of women’s sports that came about in the United States after passage of Title IX.

Kate Livesay, who took up sports in the late ’80s and early ’90s, can see the difference in her experience from her older peers.

“I was part of a generation that was feeling the benefits of Title IX and there were opportunities for me at a young age,” said Livesay, who is the head coach for Middlebury College women’s lacrosse.

She credited as a role model her mother, Carolyn Perine, who would take Kate to practice. Livesay said as girls’ and women’s sports became more mainstream participants responded by becoming more competitive.

“Investment of resources into our sports program made us feel important and drove us to excel more,” she said.

The current generation of sportswomen is testimony to what girls and women in sports can achieve when given the platform and resources to compete at a high level. The Middlebury College women stick sport teams of lacrosse, field hockey and ice hockey this year combined for 71 wins vs. only one loss during the, and all three Panther teams won national championships.

But even as the earlier generation of women pioneered the growth of women’s sports in the United States, it seems that their daughters today are perhaps even more committed to the success of Title IX.

“Our coaches keep telling us that we are much more aware and sensitive of Title IX and our rights than their players from the past years,” said Liza Toll, a track and field athlete and rising junior at the Middlebury College. “My mom has been a big influence for me. She had to fight for the right to compete. We acknowledge that our opportunities are the results of the struggles of women in the past. This drives us to raise the bar even higher for women’s sports every time we take the field.”

Coach Foote said the mindset of female athletes today is more success-driven than girls and women players in the past.

“There is an innocence in growing up with an opportunity that they did not realize was an opportunity,” she said.

Middlebury Union High School Activities Director Sean Farrell said Title IX didn’t just shift the mindset of women in college sports, but also credits the law for making sports available to girls in high schools and younger grades.

“The legislation was important,” he said. “For young girls growing up in this age, equality in opportunities is their reality.”

STILL WORK TO DO

However, many believe that Title IX has still not achieved its primary goal of eliminating gender bias in sport.

“We have come a long way, but we are not there yet,” Foote said.

DeLorenzo echoed such feelings of dissatisfaction.

“The gender bias that still exists everywhere is what prevents women’s sports from catapulting side by side with men’s sports,” she said

The younger Livesay sees the broader roles that many women play in society limiting the ability of female athlete to network and inspire current athletes. She sees that in her athletic cohort.

“Women are often the point person for their families and their familial responsibilities often do not allow them to network with current students or come back for homecomings like male athletes do,” she said.

Toll summarized such a gender bias ingrained within our societal attitude as she calls for equal recognition for women’s sports on all professional levels.

“Human virtues, such as equity, can be and are often formally legalized in law and in legislation by our policymakers,” said Toll. “However, their appropriate application remains in the hands of us as members of society. The law has called for an equitable society, it is now time for the people in that society to honor that call.”

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