Title IX Opened the Door for Women Athletes
September 17, 2012 by Hon. Nancy Vaidik
Indiana and the nation are rightly celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal law that opened doors for women and girls in athletics, higher education and more. But the celebratory focus on top athletes and coaches, while apt, tells only a small part of the story. The complete story lies in the impact that this law has had on countless women over the last forty years—an impact that has affected who we are, what we have chosen as careers, and how we have raised our children.
You see I was a high-school student at the time that Title IX passed. Thanks to Phyllis McVickers, a Portage junior high school physical education teacher, a number of young girls, me included, became interested in tumbling and gymnastics. Because of Ms. McVickers’ largesse, fifty or so girls would stay after school practicing skills, which it turned out were well beyond those needed to compete in any sport.
As we entered Portage High School, it became readily apparent that there were limited opportunities for girls in sports, and those opportunities came from a small group of selfless and dedicated physical education teachers, including Bernice Atkins, who donated hours of their free time to coach and keep the GAA (the Girls Athletic Association) running.
It was within the bowels of Portage High School’s small, underequipped, and crowded girl’s gym that we, the young aspiring girl athletes, practiced each day. We were to be sure a motley group —adolescent girls who were ashamed of our bodies, unsure of our skills, and basically afraid of our own shadows. Competition was foreign to most of us.
It was there that a transformation occurred that would affect our entire lives. We became confident, sure of our abilities, willing to put ourselves out there to fail or succeed. We learned to cooperate with one another, sacrifice for the good of the team, and dig deep to find that last bit of energy we didn’t know that we had. We began to appreciate our bodies and treat them well. These lessons that I learned long ago, I still apply every day to my life.
When I was a senior in high school, the IHSAA held its first statewide gymnastics meet. Bev Reynolds, our capable and dedicated coach, led us to a second-place finish. Although the team members were devastated not to win, we were proud of our dedication and effort. Two years later, the team won the only state championship in gymnastics that Portage High School has received.
But for gymnastics, my family would have had a hard time paying for college. I received a modest but very welcomed scholarship to Valparaiso University, where I competed on the gymnastics team under Coach Jane Betz. In addition to all I had learned from gymnastics in high school, in college I learned how to budget my time by juggling rigorous academic and practice schedules.
Back in the early 70’s, girls’ athletics was an afterthought and depended on the voluntary efforts of the high-school and junior-high gym staff. Title IX legislation sponsored by Indiana’s Senator Birch Bayh changed that. Suddenly, girls’ athletics was on equal footing with boys’ athletics and the lessons of athletics were being shared with everyone regardless of their gender. And, girls not only knew it but took advantage of it in droves.
Would I have become an attorney or judge in a then-mostly-male world without Title IX? Would one of my daughters have become an attorney and the other a medical doctor without first competing in sports? I will never know for sure. But there can be no doubt in my mind that the lessons I learned from sports are lessons that I use every day in my job and life.
I am not the only one blessed by the passing of Title IX. There are tens of thousands of women who can say the same thing. These women are the whole story of Title IX.