Thirty-seven Words:Title IX & Women’s Athletics

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Previously posted on blogspot Voices of Harvey County June 2012
 Lately, I have been spending a lot of time at the ball diamond, watching two of my children play ball.  I realized that forty years ago my daughter, who loves to play sports, would not have been encouraged to play competitively. There would not have been a team for her to play on. Thirty-seven words adopted June 23, 1972 changed everything.
Sports Illustrated Cover
June 23 marked the fortieth anniversary of the federal legislation known as “Title IX”. Although the focus of the legislation was on employment, and the act does not specifically mention “sports”, the effect of Title IX was most clearly seen in high schools, which were required by the act to provide equal opportunities for women athletes.
Halstead Girls’ Basketball, 1913

Girls in Harvey County had been participating athletic activities for many years, but prior to 1972, it was mainly intramural competitions.  All of the funding for competitive sports at the high school level was on the boys teams.

Newton High School Girls’ Basketball, 1921
Walton Girls’ Basketball, 1926-27
Hesston Girls’ Basketball, 1924-25
Newton High’s first Women’s Basketball team in 1972.
Newton High School Girls’ Basketball, 1972
First Competitive Team
In those early years, the women’s teams did not receive much funding. If they lettered in the sport, as Susan Griffith did, they got a letter, but they made their own letter jackets.
Letter Jacket, 1972
Hand constructed by Susan Griffith Agel
Susan Griffith Agel letter
“Women athletics at NHS have finally proved they are worthy of recognition, not only at the local level, but in state competition.  Next year should be even better.”  Marcy Wiebe, 1974.
Slowly things began to change.  The 1974 Railroader noted that NHS gymnastics placed third at the state level and basketball placed fourth at state. By 1978, women’s athletics received the same amount of space in the school year book as men’s.
Newton High Girls’ Basketball, 1975

The 1978 Railroader proudly noted, “Newton Ahead of Times in Handling Girls’ Sports.”

NHS Girls’ Basketball, 1975
Experts agree that the benefits of Title IX, even today, are “almost incalculable.” The number of girls competing in high school sports has ballooned over the four decades since Title IX.  In 1972, 294,015 competed; by 2011 the number had grown to 3,173,549 according to the May 7, 2012 Sports Illustrated article. The benefits are also apparent.  In general, girls who compete in sports get better grades, graduate at higher rates and have more confidence.
Watching my daughter and her friends play, it is hard to remember that just a few years ago, it would not have been possible.
Do you have memories of participating in a sport during the early 1970s?