How Title IX Has Changed Lives
By Michelle Smith
If not for Title IX, Tara VanDerveer might have been a lawyer, sitting in an office, preparing a brief, rather than patrolling the sideline of a basketball court.
The Stanford women's basketball coach was looking hard at law school after her graduation from Indiana University back in 1975 when her first coaching opportunity presented itself.
That opportunity came as a result of the opportunity provided to female athletes as a result of Title IX. It's how a Hall of Fame career began and how history was made for women across the country.
The landmark legislation, which expressly banned sex discrimination in schools, but has paved the way for female athletes' participation in athletics at all levels, celebrates its 40th Anniversary on June 23.
The Pac-12 has been honoring the legacy of Title IX since it began to field women's sports 26 years ago by becoming the country's most dominant conference in women's sports.
Tens of thousands of female athletes have taken their place on rosters at Pac-12 schools, more than 3,000 at 12 schools this past season.
Pac-12 women's teams have won 145 NCAA Championships, by far the most of any conference in the country. Some of the greatest, most decorated female athletes of the past 40 years have come out of the Pac-12, including Lisa Leslie, Natalie Coughlin, Cheryl Miller, Hope Solo and Jennie Finch.
All of them began as girls guaranteed of their opportunity to show up on the basketball court or the soccer field because of Title IX.
"It makes me feel old, 40 years, wow," VanDerveer said. "Basically, Title IX changed the course of my life."
UCLA gymnastics coach Valerie Kondos-Field was an athlete at UCLA before she became the Bruins coach.
"The longer I'm associated with NCAA gymnastics, the more I realize the impact of Title IX," Kondos-Field said. "When I was an athlete, I took it all for granted."
Kondos-Field remembers being a coach when Rhonda Fein, the program's first Olympian/recruit came to campus. Athletes received full scholarships, but none of the women received books as part of their scholarship.
"We went to the administration and we fought for it and we got them to offer our female athletes books on top of their scholarships."
There have been other battles, including a period, two years after she became head coach, where she had to fight to keep her program amid budget cuts. Title IX requirements helped to save her program.
"There is a part of me that wishes there was no need for Title IX," VanDerveer said. "I wish that when I was growing up there had been girls teams and boys teams, because I didn't experience that. We didn't have it."
Cal women's basketball coach Lindsey Gottlieb is a generation removed from VanDerveer and the pioneers of women's sports.
"I grew up in the post-Title IX era, but I've always been aware that it wasn't always like this," Gottlieb said.
When Gottlieb was a girl growing up on the East Coast, she never gave her opportunities a second thought. She was too busy playing.
"I participated in every sport under the sun, even football," Gottlieb said. "My mother didn't want me to think I couldn't do something, so she let me play everything. We would go home and watch basketball and baseball. I didn't think about Title IX."
But she does now.
"I feel like I'm reflecting on it all the time," Gottlieb said. "I was thinking about it during the [NCAA] Final Four and the lead story on SportsCenter was Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins. As we get more exposure, my thought is always 'How do we keep what's unique about women's sports?' But I am always aware of all the great things we have and the people that came before."
Arizona State softball player Amber Freeman said she and her teammates experienced Title IX tributes during their time in Oklahoma City at the NCAA Women's College World Series.
"I knew what it was, but I don't think I knew all that Title IX did for us," Freeman said. "It is a really big deal and now I'm feeling very passionate about it. It's crazy to think about the way things used to be, because now, at Arizona State, I feel like we get what we want when we ask for it. I understand now it wasn't always that way."
Alyssa Lowe, a member of the Stanford women's water polo team said she went out of her way to learn more about Title IX after hearing about it at an NCAA event.
"I think we do take it for granted that we have opportunities to do the things we want to do," Lowe said.
VanDerveer said she has talked about Title IX during her summer basketball camp with younger players. She takes the opportunity when it arises to talk about it with her own team.
"You can't lecture them. I feel like it's when our parents used to talk to us about the depression," VanDerveer said with a chuckle. "But I have players who have written papers about Title IX and they've interviewed me and they are interested in understanding it."
Kondos-Field said she talks to her athletes about appreciation, and Title IX is one of those things that they should be grateful for.
"I tell them to be thankful that they live in a time in this country where people support women's sports and that it's deserving. And I remind them that 50 years ago, we wouldn't have had this opportunity," Kondos-Field said. "We go into meets and they play the national anthem and I tell them to look at the flag and pray that they stay healthy. And then I tell them to give thanks for the fact that they are even there and able to play."
VanDerveer knows there is more to be done.
"I think things are maybe a little more subtle now, with facilities and staffing and salaries, there are still very big differences," VanDerveer said. "But the change has been monumental. I think it's clear to everyone at this point, women want the opportunity to be involved with sports."