Title IX: 50 Years Of Girls Sports Progress

In 1964, coach Jinny Parker’s 440 relay team– Joy Wassell, Mary Gail Horelick, Susan Tefft and Donna Jackson — set a national record: 53.7 seconds.

They were all Staples High School students. But they were a club team, not a varsity sport. Back then, the only official track team was for boys.

Girls had just 3 interscholastic options: field hockey in fall, basketball in winter (6-vs.-6; 3 players on each side of the court, to minimize running and sweating), softball in the spring.

Staples’ 1954-55 girls basketball team.

That’s ancient history, it seems. Today, Staples fields more girls teams than boys. Many — including soccer and field hockey — are perennial state title contenders. They draw large crowds, including proud fathers and young girls who aspire to one day be Wreckers themselves.

Staples’ girls soccer team is the defending state champion. (Photo/JC Martin)

But the growth of girls sports is relatively new. It was kick-started exactly 50 years ago — on June 23, 1972 — when President Nixon signed into law Title IX.*

The federal civil rights statute — really, just 37 words tucked inside much broader education legislation — prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

(Interestingly, the words “sports,” “athletics” and “physical education” appear nowhere in the text.)

In 1970-71, coach Marianne Harrison’s girls basketball team played its first official FCIAC season. The rules had changed the previous year to be similar to the boys game — but they still wore bloomers.

Girls sports have evolved enormously over 5 decades. Staples now offers 19  interscholastic sports for girls, 18 for boys. Sailing is co-ed.

(Wrestling is listed as a boys sport, and competitive and sideline cheerleading for girls. Both genders are eligible to try out for those teams, though the number is small.)

There are nearly 2,000 students at Staples, in grades 9 through 12. More than half — 1,018 — played at least one interscholastic sport this year, at the varsity, junior varsity or reserve level.

There are more male athletes (573) than female (445). But that’s a lot more than the few dozen girls who competed when Title IX was enacted.

Staples’ Marisa Shorrock and a Greenwich High player fight for a loose ball in 2020. Coach Paco Fabian’s team had just won their state quarterfinal game, and were favorites to win the state title, when COVID ended the season.

So, “06880” wants to know: How has Title IX impacted your sports life?

Women: What opportunities has it offered you — or what did you miss?

Girls: Are there any differences between your sports experiences today, and those of your brothers and male friends?

Men: Are your daughters’ athletic careers any different from your sisters’, female friends — or mothers’?

Tell us your stories! Click “Comments” below.

And then raise a stein to Title IX.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

*The Watergate break-in took place on June 17, 1972 — just 6 days earlier. Less than a week separated one of the highs of President Nixon’s administration, and one of its lows.

Staples had very few girls sports before Title IX. But in the 1930s, they did have a girls rifle team. (The boys had one too.) This 1936 yearbook photo, with coach Walter Stevenson, called them “Annie Oakleys.”

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9 responses to “Title IX: 50 Years Of Girls Sports Progress

  1. Fred Cantor

    The dramatic increase in the number of female athletes and the variety of sports they have the opportunity to participate in is unequivocal evidence of how Title IX has resulted in such a positive transformation of the sports landscape, in particular, and society, in general.

    As for a specific experience of mine way back in the day: In the spring of my senior year of college (1975), the men’s varsity soccer coach asked for a couple of varsity players to help demonstrate some basic skills to a group of women who wanted to learn the game and were thinking of starting up a team at Yale. I volunteered to help out.

    The funny thing about that day is I went out earlier in the afternoon on a drive with two friends for a short hike–and I totally mismanaged my time. So my friends had to drop me off at the soccer field while I was still wearing my corduroy pants and hiking shoes (which were really more like construction shoes).

    I didn’t think it would be that big a deal because I recall not expecting that many women to show up. But I was wrong. I can’t give you an accurate estimate on the number, but it was a really good turnout.

    And what I do clearly remember was how eager the attendees were to learn the game and how much they really wanted to play. You could immediately tell how much they relished the opportunity to do this. These women weren’t all natural athletes but it didn’t seem to make a difference to them. They were happy to be out there and soak up whatever we could impart.

    I also remember feeling a little sheepish showing up in the outfit I was wearing–that it might look like I wasn’t taking their interest seriously. But I was definitely impressed with their earnestness and I did my best to demonstrate and teach some of the basics.

  2. Jack Klinge

    My college roomie (now Federal Judge David Hurd) wrote the first, and still definitive, Title 9 court decision in case of Colgate Women’s Ice Hockey vs. Colgate. Still worth a read – overwhelming support for hockey team.

    • Andy Laskin

      The Colgate Hockey story is truly remarkable Tiny school with long history of killer Division 1 hockey team with tremendous alumni and school support but the women always were compelled to be a club. Enter Title IX and now the women’s’ team is top notch. The Judge’s opinion is pretty remarkable

  3. A lot has changed in the last five decades in regard to opportunities for female athletes, but it hasn’t necessarily ensured that things are equal.

    Look no further than our very own Staples High School. The Staples girls lacrosse team, which my two sisters played on this year, endured numerous challenges this season and have for many years off the field, most of which no boys team had to deal with.

    For the first time in either ever or a very long time, the girls lacrosse team was granted access to use the weight room for preseason training after having to fight hard to get that access. The issue was with scheduling but the only other girls’ team that regularly uses the weight room is girls track. And when girls lacrosse finally got a scheduled time slot to the weight room, they had to share the space with the baseball team.

    Beginning just this season, the junior varsity girls lacrosse team was granted access to use the scoreboard on Ginny Parker field while all levels of boys lacrosse and baseball have the scoreboard on for all games. Even eighth grade PAL football has the scoreboard on for their games at the stadium field.

    Another major issue is locker rooms. The football and boys lacrosse team have a spacious locker room on the backside of school right under the overpass from the gym to the stadium. None of the girls’ teams have any such equivalent. Just because the girls lacrosse field is the furthest from the school doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a locker room.

    Finally, the stadium is the only field at Staples that has lights. So if girls lacrosse wants to experience a night game, assuredly more exciting than playing during the daylight, they have to get permission from the athletic director and boys coaches that use the stadium regularly. For the first time in four years, the girls lacrosse team played in the stadium under the lights for the Senior Night game. And they had to wait until nearly 8 p.m. for the game to start because of a track and field meet.

    Not having a field with lights especially negatively affects the girls field hockey team, something Inklings News wrote about in March. In the fall when the sun sets before 5 p.m., the team is often forced to end practice early because of lack of light. They lose out on hours of practice time because they physically cannot see. Many JV field hockey games had to be cut short. Meanwhile during the fall the football team can practice and play late into the evening under the lights of the stadium.

    Solving these problems is honestly not that complex. The school and administrators just need to put as much effort into caring about boys sports as they do girls’ sports. Install lights on Ginny Parker or give them access to the stadium. Let them use the scoreboard. Convert an existing space in the school into a girls’ sports locker room. 50 years is a long time. Girls made up only 7% of high school athletes in 1972 when Title IX came into play. We’ve come a long way since then. But school administrators cannot ignore the problems that still exist.

  4. mary schmerker

    As a member of the Staples class of 1958 I remember Coach Parker very well. I never had Mr. Stevenson as a teacher but I think his wife, of course I only knew her as Mrs. Stevenson, was a teacher at Bedford Elementary. So this was a fun trip down memory lane.

  5. Deb Rosenfield

    I was a founding member of the Cornell Women’s Ice Hockey team. The team started out with club status in 1971, with a few women who had an interest in ice hockey. We had to buy our own equipment and as a goalie, as well as a poor college student, I was able to pinch some shin guards from the women’s field hockey team, a chest protector from the men’s baseball team, bought my own ice hockey skates and helmet with mask. I was appointed goalie since I could barely skate when we first started. Other than 5:30am rink time, it was lots of fun. We practiced with the men’s team (that very famous Cornell men’s team) and were respected by the male hockey players. Their trainer trained us. One of our coaches was Johnny Hughes, who was not only the captain of the undefeated men’s team, but the father of Sarah and Emily Hughes, the winning US Olympic Figure Skaters. Kenny Dryden would come back to Ithaca after his season with Montreal was over and he would give me pointers on the ice. Of course, he is 6’4″ and I’m 5’2″, so that gave a whole new meaning to cutting down the angles.

    How did playing varsity ice hockey impact my life? Well, probably in subtle ways. For example, I made an incredible save on a breakaway by a forward on the Ithaca High School girl’s ice hockey team. Her father was my professor for a computer course at the time (and when I say “computer course,” I mean learning how to punch a deck that would make your do-loop work correctly). I was a very good student in every other course but for some reason struggled with the concept of decks of computer cards at the time, yet this nice professor/dad gave me a passing grade for, as he put it, “noble simplicity,” which was totally about that save. That allowed me to make Dean’s List again that year.

    My first job out of college was with the Agricultural Division of Pfizer. I interviewed with the President of the division, whose son just happened to play hockey for the University of Vermont. We mostly talked hockey during the interview and I got the job.

    Despite those fun anecdotal experiences, and becoming lifelong friends with some hockey players who went pro, being part of a women’s varsity team at that time made me feel sort of empowered and able to compete in a man’s world, which, in the 1970s and beyond, has been important. I already had developed a lot of that feeling that I mattered, even though I was a woman, because I was one of only a handful of women in the pre-vet program at Cornell. Freshman classes of 160 men and there would be 5 to 6 women in the class. You learned to be able to speak up but also to duck, bob and weave to avoid sticky situations. I suspect this self-confidence was a combination of being on the cutting edge of Title IX activity coupled with men in authority roles who were supportive.

    Two weeks after graduation, I became the first and the only woman on staff (ie: not secretarial) at Pfizer’s Agr Division. I travelled the midwest with our Black veterinarian, Cal Downing, visiting hog farmers. Seeing the reactions from our customers was an eye-opener. This was, after all, the mid-1970s. There were more practical issues, too. Pfizer, at the time, had no policy for maternity leave for women “on staff.” Most women then were secretaries and they left their jobs when they got pregnant. So, when I became pregnant, and told my boss that I would, of course, be returning to work after the birth of my child, there was a lot of huddling going on in HR (or, as we knew it, Personnel). Pfizer was very, very good to me, primarily because the CEO and the President of the company adored me for my outspoken nature and I loved nearly every minute of my 16 years there. But, that doesn’t mean there weren’t trying times being a woman in the last bastion of male supremacy.

    I have lots of other examples of being a woman in the corporate world in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, but Dan’s original question was how Title IX might have affected a woman. I’d sum it up by saying it made me, personally, feel that I learned I could be just as effective as a male counterpart. And, equally as important, that being part of a team of women, supporting each other, created that rising tide which floated everyone’s boat.

    Don’t know if you can enlarge this photo of an article from the Sports section of the Sunday New York Times back in July, 1972, right after Nixon signed the legislation, but hopefully you can, in order to read it. Reading it again today, I realized just how sexist it was while it was couched as an article lauding women for their achievements. Oh, and I’m the goalie with the back to the camera in the photo at the top right corner!

  6. David Abrams, Staples '74

    I was never really aware of the disparity. My mom played tennis and swam and hiked, just like my dad. She introduced Him to the swimming and tennis. My eldest sister, Judy ’68, was a choir/band/orchestra person. My other sister, Janet ’71, did gymnastics/choir/theater. My classmates played field hockey, volleyball, swam, track – the inequities that they didn’t have as much as the boys never occurred to me, I mean, heck, Ginny Parker’s teams won. Women participated in music, theater, humanities, SGB, science and all went on to make livings as leaders in their fields of choice.

    Maybe Westport was just different. Maybe FCIAC and CT just reacted faster than out here in Mn. It is wonderful. I am greatful. As Anson Dorrance (UNC Women’s Soccer Coach) once said of Mia Hamm, Playing like a Girl is now a complement.

    David Abrams
    Staples ’74

  7. Cathy Walsh

    Hi Deb, we share a lot of the same experiences. All of the “firsts” I know were avid sportswomen and we all had to help our employers thru the issue of mangement level women in the late 70’s and early 80’s of being pregnant. (Knowledge of the 1964 civil rights act helped me tremendously). We were paid for 6 weeks and our jobs were guaranteed for that time only. It was tough stuff, but we did it.

    Title IX was before my time. However, my siblings and I were serious enough to find a way to compete via AAU and YMCA swim teams, track and cross country. Fortunately for all 5 of us, my parents were sports enthusiasts (golfers) and understood why sports were important and they were supportive of our efforts.

    In 1976 during my interview with US Steel for a management training position (first outside saleswoman) they asked 1) have you read Ayn Rand and 2) do you golf. Of course the answer was yes to both and bam!! I was hired.

    To Dan’s question: I missed absolutely nothing because Title IX came into being after I’d already participated in swim nationals a few times and had won a couple AAU cross county medals. However, I could not imagine my life without sports. Most of my enduring personal and business relationships have a very strong sports component. It’s been a pretty great ride.

    Title IX brings the opportunity to all girls everywhere to create healthy lifestyles and to understand the life lessons that are taught thru both team and individual sports. Keep it strong and as intentioned.

  8. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    I remember that relay team – really great athletes – and of course I remember Jinny Parker. I graduated in ’67 and I think there was also a women’s tennis team.
    I really wish there had been a girls’ golf team back then or maybe they could have let the girls play on the boys team. Or also a girls lacrosse team. I wen to college outside of Philadelphia – the hotbed then of lacrosse back then. I”m not sure I had even heard of it. I guess it was more of a private school thing back them. The basketball game for girls back then with only 3 dribbles and only letting the “rovers” go full court was awful.
    It truly is amazing how much things have changed.Looking back, I feel like I was living in the dark ages. .