Title IX is one of those landmark government actions that ranks right up there with the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the Volstead Act and the Open Meetings Act. Some legislative pieces in U.S. history have changed our lives.
Though Title IX too often is regarded simply as a sort of women’s lib law for sports, all it meant to do is insist that boys and girls have equal opportunities in the athletic arena. In light of the development this week of a civil rights complaint being filed against the Wayland Union school district, I thought of my first brush with the intent of the law, even before it was passed.
One of my earliest columns for Ye Olde Wayland Globe back in 1972 declared that “women’s lib is alive and well in the old girls’ gym.” I noted that the Wildcat boys used the Pearl Street gym for all its practices and games, but the girls were stuck with much older and inferior facilities in the ancient gym where Phil Regan and Harry Hudson roamed in 1955 en route to the state Class C finals.
School officials had me brought in for a private sit-down conference, at which they explained that there just wasn’t enough time and space for the girls to use the boys’ gym. Furthermore, in that year before Title IX became the law of the land, the girls were still playing that awful slow-motion, dribble three times and pass and standing guard kind of hoops.
So despite my going to bat for the gals, everything stayed the same.
Then the floodgates were opened by the legislation and by Wayland voters finally approving construction of the new high school. Though the girls were stuck in the 1973-74 academic year with the old girls’ gym, they finally were permitted a year later to use the new facilities, the same ones where the guys practiced and played.
Aiding this transition back then was the custom of the girls playing in the fall and the boys in the winter. So they didn’t really have to fight each other for gym time.
Wayland’s transition from the Girls’ Athletic Association club style to playing the game just like the guys was a little slower than others. Their first coach was Pat Rowley, who was old school, steeped in that quaint and dainty girls’ game. The Lady Wildcats were getting beaten on the court often, Rowley stepped down, and successor Pat Sowle was unable to bring their competitiveness up to others’ levels.
Meanwhile, in the fall of 1975, the MHSAA finally turned loose its first-ever state girls’ basketball tournament, and Hopkins, with coach Ellen Penhorwood and savvy players like Karen Caywood and Sue Maher, stepped up to the plate, going all the way to the Class C state finals before losing to Gladwin.
By the start of the 1976-77 academic year, Wayland had hired a new varsity girls’ basketball coach, Zack Moushegian, and the last picture I ever took for the Globe before my exodus to Albion was of a freshman standout tennis player named Cheri Ritz.
The die was cast. Title IX’s impact was being felt and, looking back, I’m glad it happened. The number of games and events we sports writers had to cover just about doubled and it wreaked havoc with space in our papers. But there was no turning back.
A good friend of mine who was a varsity boy’s basketball coach was outraged at the idea the varsity girls’ basketball coach would be paid the same stipend as he. But Title IX had arrived, for better or for worse.
High school athletics have never been the same since. And I have grown to appreciate the insistence that girls be given the same chances to play and succeed as boys.
Now comes a civil rights complaint from the other side, insisting the boys’ baseball team have similar opportunities as do our wildly successful girls’ softballers. Some of the complaints about the recent complaint remind me a lot of what was said to me back in 1972.
Message to the administration and the Wayland Board of Education: Lead, or get out of the way. Stop stonewalling. Do the right thing.