I grew up in a small town in Minnesota in the 1970’s, the oldest of three girls. My father was an athlete in college, so I played ball from the time I could walk. Although Title IX passed in 1972 when I was four years old, it didn’t matter much to me at first because everything I played was outside school, like Little League and the YMCA basketball league, and coed. There just weren’t separate leagues for girls so the small numbers of girls played together with the boys.
By the time I started middle school in 1980, my school had already added girls’ teams in everything, including a girls’ basketball team. Basketball was my passion and I was eager to play on a school team, but when it came time to sign up I discovered that the boys’ team had twice as many practices, twice as many games, and practiced in the big gym with the shiny wood floor. The girls got the cramped old gym with the concrete floor. One night over dinner I told my parents, “I want to play on the boys’ team because they play more and get the good gym.”
I went to the principal’s office the next day, heart pounding. I quickly explained what I wanted to do and why.
“Okay,” he said, “we’ll figure it out.” And I thought to myself, “Great! That was easy.”
And then the boys’ basketball coach quit in protest.
On the playground an older boy shouted at me, “Girls can’t play. You’ll get squashed and it will serve you right!” I was confused, and I was angry. It was so clear to me that it wasn’t fair that the girls’ team was treated differently from the boys’ team. Why couldn’t everyone else see that? For the first time I understood why I needed Title IX, because other people didn’t see it as unfair and wouldn’t do what was fair without it.
The school scrambled to find a replacement coach before the first practice. They found a young guy, Brad Larsen. I will never forget his name because like the principal he was as cool as a cucumber in a situation that had all the other adults in a tizzy. “Where will she get dressed for games?” “How dare you let her take playing time from my son!” “She made our coach quit!”
On the first day of practice Coach Larsen acted as if there was nothing out of the ordinary and so our team did the same. The other boys on the team weren’t a problem; they’d been playing ball with me for years. So we just kept playing.
Our first game was at home. My dad had just had back surgery so my poor mom had to sit in the stands by herself with all those parents glaring at her. I got dressed in the girls’ locker room, putting a t-shirt on under the way-too-big tank uniform top and then joined my team in the boys’ locker room. After a quick pep talk, we hit the floor for warmups.
I didn’t start the game. I think that was one decision made to avoid even more conflict. But a few minutes later, I went in, and a boy on the other team was assigned to guard me. As play started I ran down the court to the right baseline side of the basket and got a pass from a teammate. The boy guarding me stood several feet away just watching me. So I took a shot. Swish. His jaw dropped. Back and forth down the court we went. I ran to the right side again. Another pass. He still stood several feet away. Jump shot. Swish. He stared and shook his head. Back and forth one more time, I went down to the right baseline. Pass. Jump shot. Swish. Tweet! His coach called a time out. As his coach yelled at him, I went to our huddle grinning.
That boy assumed that girls couldn’t play. He acted on that assumption by not bothering to guard me. When we returned to the basketball court though, he began sticking to me like glue. I had just shattered his assumption about girls and sports with three jump shots in thirty seconds. He would never think the same way about girls and basketball again.
And our middle school never did either. By the following year the girls’ team had an equal number of games and practices and shared the good gym. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Title IX gave girls like me in towns and schools across the country the lever we needed to challenge the assumption that girls couldn’t and didn’t want to play ball. And so we did – jump shot by jump shot.
~ Kristin Maschka
- Read and share the stories in the Faces of Title IX feature on the National Women’s Law Center website.
- Check out and share the Title IX Trailblazer videos from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators video contest.
- We’ve made tons of progress, but girls are still not getting equal treatment in many schools and it’s often hard to get schools to provide information on how athletics money is being spent. Support two bills via the National Women’s Law Center website that require high schools to report on sports participation and expenditures broken down by gender. Make your support public on PopVox for H.R. 458 and S. 1269.
- Be ready to debunk Title IX myths and support recommendations for strengthening it by reading this report from a coalition chaired by the American Association of University Women, Title IX at 40: Working to Ensure Gender Equity in Education.
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