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Title IX Milestone — Still Room to Improve

Every young woman who has received an athletic scholarship for college, every woman who has fought for the rights of girls to play sports and every individual who champions the advancements in women’s rights celebrated the 30th birthday of Title IX on June 23.

"It really has made a big difference in the athletic opportunities for girls, both at the youth sports level and at the high school level,” said John C. Porter, the principal at Alexandria’s T. C. Williams High School.

“When I was growing up in Alexandria, I don’t remember there being any real opportunities for my classmates to participate in athletics. That has changed, not only because we offer more opportunities but because girls are growing up with the belief that they have these opportunities.”

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 states that “no person in the U. S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”

While athletics have created the most controversy regarding Title IX, gains in education and academics are notable. Before Title IX, many schools saw no problem in refusing to admit women or having strict limits. According to research conducted by the University of Iowa, in 1994, women received 38 percent of all medical degrees conferred in this country as opposed to nine percent in 1972. Also, in 1994, women earned 43 percent of all law degrees, compared with seven percent in 1972. In that same year, 44 percent of al doctoral degrees conferred on U. S. citizens went to women as opposed to 25 percent in 1972.

TITLE IX GIVES schools the flexibility to choose sports based on student body interest, geographic influence, a given school’s budget constraints and gender ratio. It is not a matter of women being able to participate in wrestling or that exactly the same amount of money is spent per women and men’s basketball players. Instead, the focus is on the necessity for women to have equal opportunities as men on a whole, not on an individual basis. In the 1970-71 school year, 300,000 girls played a high school sport. That number was 2.6 million in the 1998-99 school year. This meant that in 1970, only one in every 27 girls played varsity sports.

“The changes are phenomenal,” said Beverly Steele. Steele supervises special projects for Alexandria City Manager Philip Sunderland. She is a former high school athlete and physical education teacher. “When I was growing up in Illinois in the 1950s, girls were not permitted to play sports against other schools. We were told that participation in athletics would impair our ability to have children.”

When Steele graduated from high school in 1959, she would like to have played basketball in college. “That just wasn’t an option for me,” she said. “There were no athletic scholarships for women at that time.”

As a physical education teacher in the 1960s, things were improving but only slightly. “I coached a field hockey team that did quite well and I was able to negotiate for gym time with a boys’ school near us,” she said. “However, I remember stories about girls’ teams being forced to practice at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. Boys always got the preferential gym time and space.”

CATHY DAVID, principal at Samuel Tucker Elementary School, grew up in Alexandria and now lives in the Mt. Vernon area of Fairfax County. Her children attended Hayfield High School. “When I was young, we had no high school sports that I can remember and only a few opportunities for girls to participate in youth sports through the Department of Recreation. There was basketball, softball and volleyball; that’s it. Title IX has had an impact but only as a piece of the movement toward widening opportunities for women overall.”

A.K. Johnson, the athletic director at T. C. has seen many changes. “The number of girls who participate in sports is certainly increasing,” he said. “When I came to Alexandria, there were very few real opportunities for women. Girls had to compete in track events against boys, at least in the open events. They also didn’t really compete in distance events. I think the longest distance was the 800-meter. That has changed.”

What about the need to monitor the amount of money that is spent on girls and boys’ sports?

“It’s not so much that the money has to be equally divided but that you make sure each team has what it needs,” Porter said.

Johnson agreed. “Football is very expensive to run,” he said. “Right now, it costs about $200 per athlete, just for the equipment and there are very specific rules about maintaining the equipment. Field hockey doesn’t cost that much. The key is to make sure that each team is treated fairly. I have been very aware of the need for equal treatment of girls’ softball, for instance. There was a real need for a field with a proper scoreboard and we are constantly working to see that these types of needs are met.”

THERE ARE BETWEEN 300 and 400 female athletes at T. C. and about 500 male athletes. Also, there is more spectator interest in boys’ sports than in girls, in general. “Football and basketball certainly make the most money, throughout the district,” Johnson said. He is referring to the Patriot District that encompasses Alexandria and the immediate surrounding schools in Fairfax County. “Interest increases as the teams do well and compete at the district and regional level but there are still more fans at boys’ basketball games, for example, than at girls’ games. I think its just society catching up with what’s happening in girls’ sports.”

This lack of fan support points to the fact that inequities remain. National Collegiate Athletic Association research shows that for every $3 going into college athletic programs over the last five years, $2 is going into men’s sports and only $1 to women’s sports. Male athletes receive $179 million more in athletic scholarships each year than their female counterparts.

Collegiate institutions spend 24 percent of their athletic operating budgets, 16 percent of their recruiting budgets and 33 percent of their scholarship budgets on female athletes. Less than 35 percent of all high school athletes are women. Less than 34 percent of all college athletes are women. Less than one percent of all coaches of men’s teams and less than 46 percent of all coaches of women’s teams is female.

V. Rodger Digilio, a member of Alexandria’s School Board has watched things change for girls in sports over the years. “Title IX has made an impact, there is no doubt of that,” he said. “We have seen the emergence of women’s crew, for example, here in Alexandria, along with many other new sports opportunities. We must not stop here, though. It is important to continue the advances we have made.”

Johnson agreed. “This year, we had more women out for crew than men,” he said. “As girls participate in sports at younger and younger ages, we see the impact academically as well as in athletics. In many instances, girls are more prepared to meet both the athletic and academic standards that we set for our athletes than are boys. That is not true across the board but it is worth noting.”

Johnson would like to see an increase in girls’ sports opportunities at the parks and recreation level. “The only we can hope to have competitive teams at the high school level is to have a feeder system where girls can learn the fundamentals,” he said. “This exists for many boys sports but not as much for girls.”

HAS TITLE IX been bad for men’s sports? “I have heard it said that this is true at the collegiate level but I think you would have to look more closely at exactly why some of those sports have been cancelled,” Digilio said. “It is probably not totally attributable to Title IX and may well have something to do with funding and whether the sport is making any money. I don’t think we see this kind of a problem at the high school level, though.”

Porter agreed. “This is not something that we have seen,” he said. “We are fortunate in that we don’t have to support our athletic programs strictly through the money that we take in at the gate at sporting events. Our school board has been very supportive in putting money in the budget for athletics.”