Even after passage of Title IX in 1972, it wasn’t easy. There were gross inequities in everything from uniforms and sneakers to locker rooms and playing fields.
And, as legendary New Mexico girls basketball coach Don Flanagan explained to Journal sports writer Ken Sickenger, the skill levels of female athletes weren’t so refined back in the 1970s.
“I thought, ‘This is never gonna work,’ ” said Flanagan, who left coaching boys basketball at Arizona’s Window Rock High to take over the girls program at Eldorado High School, where he won 11 state championships from 1979-95. “Those kids had never been coached and the skill level was so lacking. They had no idea how to be strong with the ball. There were jump balls on almost every possession. It wasn’t pretty.”
It was the mid-1970s. Girls high school basketball was slowly, but surely, becoming part of the American landscape after the passage of landmark Title IX federal legislation.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibited sex-based discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. It meant schools such as Eldorado High and the University of New Mexico, where Flanagan built UNM’s women’s basketball program into a money-maker and national attendance leader, had to offer equal sporting opportunities for girls and women.
The Journal Sports staff chronicled the impact of Title IX in a series of stories and columns this past month. (Go to abqjournal.com/sports for that coverage.)
Their reports show how few acts of Congress have transformed America like Title IX.
Title IX launched a nationwide sports boom for half of America — girls and women — while also creating new opportunities for coaches, trainers, officials, etc., regardless of gender.
More importantly, it empowered girls to compete, to train, to test their capabilities, to learn to work in team settings — lessons that helped them succeed in boardrooms and politics; in the fields of medicine, science, law and education, even carrying them into space.
Of course, the struggle for gender equity continued long after the adoption of Title IX and still exists today.
Just last year, a video comparing the weight room at the women’s NCAA basketball tournament to the men’s went viral, illustrating that major differences continue in the accommodations for women’s and men’s sports.
But we have come a long way in 50 years. The first New Mexico girls state track meet was in the spring of 1973, but full participation from Albuquerque schools didn’t begin until 1976. New Mexico girls basketball state tournaments were at school sites or Tingley Coliseum in the early years and wouldn’t take place at The Pit until 1990. Shiprock and Kirtland Central played in the first high school girls championship at The Pit, drawing a crowd of 10,000 people.
“It was clearly the right thing to do,” Flanagan says.
Yes, it was.
While initially making no mention of sports, Title IX has come to be known for its effect on athletics. But Title IX requires not only equal opportunities in sports, but also that financial assistance must be given on an equal basis. It was a sea change.
The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 further required all institutions that receive direct or indirect federal funding to comply with Title IX. Almost all colleges fall under its umbrella today because their students receive federal financial aid, even if the schools themselves do not.
The NCAA initially lobbied hard against Title IX, fearing it would hurt men’s athletics. It was obviously on the wrong side of history. As women’s sports grew in popularity, the NCAA got with the program, albeit reluctantly.
Some continue to argue that Title IX hurts male sports, saying more men are interested in sports than women, and that providing equal opportunities for both isn’t fair.
It’s true that many men’s programs had to be cut so universities could remain compliant with Title IX. Football programs soak up a lot of scholarships that have to be offset with an equal amount of scholarship money for women proportionate to enrollment. A recent 153-page report revealed the NCAA still spends significantly more on male athletes than on female athletes.
Still, the growth has been phenomenal. In 1971, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports, which was about 8% of the boys’ participation numbers. Today, girls’ participation in sports has increased to 75% of boys’ participation numbers.
Title IX has made dreams possible for innumerable girls and women in New Mexico. Names such as Sandia basketball standout Olivia “O.J.” Jones, who played at Arizona State and had a coaching career that took her to Indianapolis; Manzano track athlete Val Boyer, who recently retired as a city magistrate in Mesa, Arizona; Eldorado star basketball player Taryn Bachis, who has spent 35 years as a coach and administrator at Albuquerque Academy; Academy track athlete Ellen Hart, who participated in three varsity sports at Harvard; Manzano basketball, volleyball and track athlete Sally Marquez, who is the New Mexico Activities Association’s executive director; and former Roswell and UNM basketball standout Jaedyn De La Cerda, who has signed to play professionally in Australia, might not be known if it were not for Title IX.
For every one of these standouts, there are thousands — even tens of thousands — of other New Mexican girls and women who were able to compete in sports, and realize their dreams on and off the court because of Title IX. Here’s to 50 years of moving forward and keeping Title IX strong.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.