Long Race for Athletic Equity

When I entered the Olympic stadium last year to throw out the first pitch for the women's softball game between the US and Taiwan, I thought about how far women in sports have come - and how far we still have to go.

Elevating the status of women's softball to Olympic status took a long time. On college campuses, gender equity also has come slowly. Twenty-five years after equal athletic opportunity was mandated for men and women in college athletics, it remains an elusive ideal.

An athlete's beginnings

I developed my own sports skills growing up in Springfield, Mass., by playing touch football, baseball, punch ball, and basketball with the neighborhood boys. As an eight-year-old, I tagged along with my dad when he drove my brother to his baseball practices and games. The coach had me go out in the field and shag fly balls. I was excited to be part of an organized practice, and the coach liked what he saw. Afterward, he told my father he wished he could trade some of the boys with weaker skills and have me play on his team. My dad didn't think that would be a good idea.

Instead, he and some other fathers started a local girls' fast-pitch league. My fondest memory is of 10 girls piled into our station wagon, driving to and from practices and games.

At my parochial high school, the only competitive sport for girls was gymnastics, which I soon discovered wasn't for me. Besides, I don't think manufacturers made leotards to fit a 5-foot, 10-inch frame. I stayed active by playing in the band and participating in the annual interclass volleyball competition.

By my junior year, in 1970, I began to wonder why my high school was unable to field any girls' sports. The boys had football, soccer, baseball, basketball, and tennis. We had gymnastics and cheerleading. The next fall, I enlisted two female gym teachers in my efforts to start a girls' basketball team. After meeting with classmates and countering the objections of administrators, I turned in a list of interested girls.

I was given permission to schedule three games in the city against other girls. I coached and played in all three games - and lost all three. Still, I felt as though I had won. I had shown the administration that there was, indeed, a strong interest. After I graduated, my school announced it would sponsor girls' basketball and softball teams. In three years, the program won the All-Western Massachusetts championships.

As a freshman at Springfield College on the eve of Title IX's implementation, I was excited to be a part of an organized college athletics program. Yet, even after Title IX, I noticed differences between men's and women's programs. The men's athletic director, for example, had one or two full-time secretaries in his office; the women's athletic director had a student secretary.

At that time, colleges belonged to both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). More than 90 percent of women's programs were administered by women. Coaches, administrators, and officials of men's athletics under the NCAA were governed solely by men.

But by 1976, the AIAW was fading, and athletic scholarships were being offered to women under the NCAA. Athletic programs throughout the country were restructured. Departments were consolidated. Men typically became the athletic directors. If women were involved in administration at all, they were given titles such as "women's co-administrator," "associate," or "women's administrator."

During the 1980s, many women chose to leave the profession, frustrated by the restructuring and unhappy with the direction in which college athletics was heading. More men entered the coaching profession. And powerful sports lobbyists fought to water down Title IX.

The future of Title IX

Looking back, it's clear that Title IX has done much, but still has much to do. I hope it will continue to force us to reevaluate school sports programs. If we don't get it right in the next few years, athletics will become more club-oriented, as they are in Europe. So why not try a different model this time? Let's make sure that high schools and colleges do the right thing for our nation's daughters, as well for its sons.

* Diane Schumacher is director of women's athletics, as well as softball and basketball coach, at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. She was the first American player inducted into the International Softball Hall of Fame.

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