Title IX changed women’s sports — but it wasn’t an immediate impact.
Janet Parks, a retired Bowling Green State University professor and former coach, has researched Title IX, which became law 50 years ago, and its extensive impact on collegiate athletics. She said progress was gradual and somewhat stagnant at times.
“A lot of people think that immediately everything changed, but it didn’t,” Parks said of the law’s passage. “It didn’t become effective immediately. We had until 1978 to comply. You might not realize that the men’s and women’s athletic departments were separated by gender, but they both came out of the physical education department and were also separated by that.
“We had that cultural difference. It was difficult to merge our programs because we had always been separated. It was more than just passing a law and saying you’re equal. I don’t know if I consider it a roadblock, but it was a challenge in getting on the same page. I can’t pretend that all the women wanted to be like the men’s programs. There were a lot of levels of reaction to Title IX.”
It started with funding.
“Giving women equal resources, that was a challenge because we didn’t have a budget. We started with a balance of zero dollars. It was a challenge to bring that resource level up to equity. Logistics was one of the biggest challenges.”
Parks was the writer and producer of a 2009 WBGU-TV documentary called “Title IX: Implications for Women in Sport and Education,” which is greatly considered to be among the most comprehensive reports on the history and application of Title IX.
Parks also co-wrote “Forward Falcons: Women’s Sports at Bowling Green State University, 1914-1982” with Ann Bowers and Adelia Hostetler Muti, which celebrated female athletes before women’s sports fell under the jurisdiction of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Title IX went into effect in 1972 after it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. It is a federal, civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any education program that receives funding from the federal government. It was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act when Mink died in 2002.
Parks credited Mink, who co-wrote the law; Bernice Sandler, known as the Godmother of Title IX; and Elizabeth Boyer, a ’37 graduate of BGSU, who was the president of the Women’s Equity Action League, for advancing the cause for gender equality.
“When it was first conceived of the law, it was for equality of women in faculty and for students,” said Parks.
Student-athletes at BGSU who have benefited from the passage of Title IX included Valerie Newell. The 1975 BGSU graduate was a swimmer who was a two-time Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women All-American and a three-time captain. The AIAW, which was founded in 1971, was absorbed by the NCAA in 1982.
“I think the whole popularity of women’s sports has got a lot to do with young girls thinking they can do the same thing young boys were doing. That was part of the women’s movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” said Newell, who had served as a trustee of the BGSU Foundation.
“With Title IX, we realized that we need to give these young women the same opportunities, and it started to be that more young girls would participate in sports. It was women gaining more power in the ‘60s and ‘70s and working outside the home more and becoming more equal to men and it trickled down to athletics.”
Today, there are youth softball programs and youth soccer programs for girls, something that didn’t exist until fairly recently.
Newell graduated magna cum laude and was appointed to the board of trustees in 1992 by former Gov. George Voinovich, a role in which she served for 12 years. She credited her coach, Jean Campbell, who will be inducted into the BGSU Athletic Hall of Fame in October, with instilling confidence in the team.
“She was really wonderful. She was a great example of somebody who was feminine, yet strong. She was smart and competitive in a way that was not offensive,” said Newell. “She taught us how to get what we needed to get. She taught us how you had to work hard to be good. If you were right, you should speak up about it.
“She was really good, she was kind of ahead of the curve (with our training). We were not a team of stars, we were a team of depth because we had a lot of people place and score points. We didn’t have a couple of stars like some teams do.”
Campbell coached the swimming and diving team from 1966-77, and also was the Falcons synchronized swimming coach from 1976-78. Under her direction, the Falcons won five Ohio State Championships and two Midwest Championships.
Campbell had 10 swimmers earn AIAW All-America honors in one or more events, and four of her synchronized swimmers won All-America Honorable Mention. Her teams won 25 straight dual meets from 1969-74, and captured the OAISW Championship in four consecutive years (1974-77).
Hal Brown, who was the sports editor of the Sentinel-Tribune from 1973-80, talked about the process of media outlets starting to take women’s athletics more seriously after Title IX became law.
“The coaches called in with recaps for the games, and we used four-five paragraphs and the box score. We had to coach them a little bit as to what we wanted. There were sports editors at other newspapers who then adopted the same philosophy: if they give us content, we’ll use it,” said Brown. “Then we started covering games in person. Since the boys games were better attended, we covered their games, but we sometimes covered girls games, too.
“BG students covered some of the girls’ high school games. It kind of grew from there, slowly for a couple of years. The first few years, Bowling Green High School, Perrysburg and Eastwood had some really good girls basketball teams. Track and field surprised me the most with how fast it grew. There were plenty of talented ladies in that sport. Programs expanded down into the junior high, and by the time they got to the high school, they were pretty talented. It slowly grew over 7-8 years.”