Title IX Lives: 40 years later, equality legislation making impact in Coweta
By DOUG GORMAN
"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 education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance"
Whenever a female athlete shoots a basket, makes a glove catch or kicks the soccer ball toward the goal, the words Title IX may never cross their mind.
After all, today’s female athletes are at least a generation removed from the landmark decision that gave equal opportunities to everybody. Without the law that turns 40 this year, young women who thrive on playing sports may not enjoy all the perks and benefits that come with it.
“I think girls have heard of it but they don’t really think about it, because playing sports has become second nature to them,” said East Coweta head coach girls soccer coach Chris Luppens.
Northgate volleyball player Elle McCord certainly has benefitted by the 40-year-old law even though she admits she had to educate herself on the manner before giving her thoughts on the subject.
“I really didn’t know that much about it until I started talking to coach (Matt) Trucks about it,” she said. “When I began to do some research and learned more, I realized how important it is. My generation does appreciate it, even if we don’t think too much about it.”
McCord began playing volleyball at a high level 11 years ago and has turned into one of the state’s best college prospects.
The talented student-athlete is a prime example of how Title IX can work in a young woman’s favor.
After a busy summer of playing with her club team, McCord enters her senior year with the Lady Vikings with a volleyball scholarship to the University of Georgia already in her pocket.
“I have really worked hard to get this chance by keeping my grades up and working hard on the court,” she said. “I have had so many opportunities growing up, and I know it’s because of Title IX.”
When Senator Birch Baye of Indiana sponsored the bill in 1972 with the words “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of their sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance", he wasn’t even thinking about leveling the athletic playing field between men and women, but that is what happened.
As the law states, Title IX assures equal opportunities for everybody, but women’s athletics does appear to be the biggest winner.
What today’s athlete knows about Title IX probably comes from history books, because most coaches don’t spend too much time talking about it with their athletes.
“If kids today don’t think about Title IX, I think that means it is doing its job,” said Trucks, who coaches both volleyball and basketball at Northgate.
Still East Coweta girls basketball coach Paula Jones knows life would be a lot more complicated without it.
“Girls today have so many more opportunities than what we had when I was coming along,” Jones said.
Jones was one of the lucky female athletes who played basketball before Title IX became law.
Growing up in South Carolina, her high school offered a girls basketball team, and the community threw its support the team’s way with rapid fans leaning on every win and loss.
When Jones suited up for her high school, girls basketball didn’t look anything like the up tempo game that is played by most teams today. Back then, there were six players on each side, and only three were allowed to cross half court.
Even when she went to college, Jones played the old-style game at Winthrop University for the first year.
There were some other differences, too. Female players paid their own way to school, or got academic grants because there were no athletic scholarships for women.
“It was a whole lot different back then,” she said. “We had basketball, but we weren’t part of the NCAA. There weren’t even athletic scholarships for women. Small schools were mixed in with the big schools when it came time to compete for national titles."
It took until 1982 for the NCAA to field its first women’s Division I tournament basketball tournament.
Today, the women’s college game has exploded. With its 64-team tournament field just like the men, it has its own version of March Madness, large television contracts and big crowds.
Jones gives former Tennessee head coach Pat Summit credit for elevating the women’s game to where it is today.
Summit retired from the game at the end of last season after compiling a 1098-208 record with eight national titles.
“I have been to one game at Tennessee,” Jones said. “It is an amazing place. What Pat Summit did for the game of women’s basketball is unbelievable.”
But it is not just basketball where young women benefit. Forty years after Title IX became law, girls in Coweta County have access to a full menu of sports at the high school level, and most have played sports with recreation and travel teams long before starting high school regardless of the sport.
Last fall, Northgate captured the 2011 Class AAAA state softball title and Ansley Smith and Ashley Clifton parlayed their years of experience on the softball field to sign Division I scholarships.
Smith will head to Kentucky, while Clifton will play at Georgia Tech.
Lacrosse is still a relatively new sport in Coweta County, but thanks to Title IX players such as Newnan Lady Cougars Maggie McDaniel and McKynsey Douglas have had doors opened for them.
This past season they shared The Newnan Times-Herald Player of the Year honors and are expected to take their skills in that sport to the next level. All three of the county’s public school girls programs have sent players to college on lacrosse scholarships.
In the 40 years that Title IX has been on the books, female athletes have thrived at all levels with access to training, camps and of course full-ride scholarships to college.
“All you have to do is to look at the U.S. Women's soccer team and their success to see how far we have come,” Luppens said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the Title IX and the freedoms we enjoy in this country.”
Luppens leads a program that didn’t exist before 1994. Back then, girls who wanted to play soccer suited up and played with the boys.
The Georgia High School Association has equally adapted. Slow-pitch softball began to be phased out by the new millennium as the fast-pitch game allowed for more scholarship opportunities for athletes in college programs.
Nationally, the landscape of women’s professional sports has equally changed due to the increased interest in women’s athletics.
The Women’s National Basketball Association, funded by the NBA, is in its 15th season. Prize money has been elevated on the women’s tennis and golf tours, and female athletes have become media darlings. Madison Avenue has also caught on the importance of women’s sports through multi-million dollar endorsements.
Even NASCAR, once considered a “good-old boy” sport, can’t escape the importance of women as it hopes female driver Danica Patrick turns into one of its stars.
Nobody will argue about the benefits women get from playing sports.
“I think there is strong relationship between women who have grown up playing sports or other extracurricular activities, and doing well in the classroom,” Trucks said.
“Sports opens up so many opportunities,” he said. “So many of your business leaders grew up playing sports, and now you see women CEOs, and most of them played sports too.”
Jones sees a strong correlation between girls who play sports and a strong work ethic and character.
“They work hard and are better equipped to handle adversity,” Jones said. “They are prepared for what is out there, and so much of it has to do with sports.”