I am a girl from the 'olden times!' I grew up before Title IX. Girls did not have the opportunities that exist today for school sports. Don't get me wrong. Girls did get to play some sports, but it certainly was not like it is today. There were not as many sports opportunities for girls as there were for boys and we always took what was left... of the money, the gym time, the equipment. This picture says a lot about what it was like back then. Only two girls.
The girls went to the local school sports games for the high school events. We cheered for the boys' home team at basketball and football games and we learned the basics of the rules and how to watch the games. At family gatherings, we played softball! We had badminton and volleyball nets in the yard from time to time. Our parents and the neighbors participated. We also got involved with the swim team offered by the YMCA and a local country club league and some of us were in gymnastics classes or dance lessons. Of course all of these and more were available to the boys. The schools however, offered less for girls than for boys, and at the time, participation was all free through the school.
Until I was out of high school and in college, girls' high school sports opportunities were available but limited. That has changed dramatically after the passage of Title IX. Prior to Title IX, some girls could get into gymnastics and cheer leading and a few had softball, basketball, track, golf and tennis depending on the community. At our school, girls had only side-line cheer leading, and gymnastics. (Read to the end to find out how we got swimming.) We could play basketball in an intramural club at school called GAA. Our boys had all of the sports listed above except cheer leading and they had baseball instead of softball, in addition to football, cross country and wrestling. Most of the boys programs had Varsity and JV programs as well. The boys had priority for the use of the facilities at the schools and priority when it came to budget.
Our high school added a swimming pool the year I was in 10th grade. The athletic director was planning a swim team for the boys, but none for the girls. When my mother asked about this, she was told that there was not enough money in the budget for a girls' team. Mom had to fight for our opportunity to use the pool and have a girls' swim team. She insisted on having a team because there were many girls who had been competing in various country clubs and at the YMCA over the previous few years and of course, they wanted a chance to compete as a team for the local high school. Mom told the superintendent that she would coach the team without pay. The AD and superintendent insisted she earn a life saving certificate and become a Water Safety Instructor in order to be the coach. So, without pay and after earning the required certifications, she became our coach. The demand was so great that more than 60 girls wanted to be on the team! She needed an assistant (volunteer swimming instructor) to help with girls who really did not know how to swim but were anxious to be in the sport anyway. We won all of our league meets for the first 3 years of the program. They started paying the coach after the first year.
Whenever a sport is added to the offerings of a school athletic department, there are struggles to overcome. Money, space, scheduling, officials, coaches and many other considerations. Since Title IX has been in effect for several decades, girls can not be left out. In our town in the late 1960's, a new team for the boys seemed a natural, almost expected addition when the pool was built even though the budget was tight. The thought of adding a team for girls did not enter the heads of the men in charge. It took a lot of effort on the part of my mother to make this a possibility for the girls. As I see the level of competition for girls and women getting stronger each year, I appreciate the women and the men who pushed for equality for girls in school sports. Thanks Mom!
Lynn Benson is the Managing Member of Benson Products, LLC and a retired Physical Education teacher, former Aquatic Supervisor, and the mother of 3 and grandmother of 7. Lynn is the inventor of Splash Count portable sports clock and counter. This article is based on her observations and opinion.