Girls/Women’s Sports: Title IX turns 40
By Tony Baranek email@example.com June 21, 2012 10:20PM
Barb Burk, longtime Lockport softball coach, talks about the 40th anniversary of Tiltle IX. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2012 8:04AM
Part 1 in a series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. Coming July 1, today’s beneficiaries discuss what they know — and don’t — of Title IX.
In 1970, female high school athletes didn’t have seasons — at one point they didn’t have uniforms, either.
While the boys had cool uniforms, conference championships, state tournaments and big crowds, the girls wore gym suits with the numbers on their backs fashioned out of athletic tape.
“The school wouldn’t buy uniforms at the time,” said Barb Burk, who coached and taught at Lockport High School from 1968 to 2002.
Boys high school athletes pretty much had it all for the first 72 years of the 20th century. Then on June 23, 1972, Title IX came along.
Officially called Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, the new federal law decreed that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In other words, what’s good for males should be good for females, whether it be in the classroom or on the field of play. Total equality.
It put the breath of life into girls and women’s sports, and started an explosion in participation and opportunities.
The IHSA held its first girls state finals during the 1972-73 school year in tennis, track and bowling. By 1976, girls were competing for state championships in 10 sports.
Today, there are 15 IHSA-sanctioned sports in which all or most of the competitors are female, compared with 14 for the boys.
According to the National Federation of High Schools, more than 3.6 million girls play sports today, compared with fewer than 300,000 in 1972.
Athletic college scholarships virtually were nonexistent for women before Title IX. Now, millions of dollars in Division I scholarships are extended to female athletes.
“I’m elated about that,” Burk, 68, said. “We’ve come a long way, baby.”
But they haven’t come all the way.
While girls’ participation skyrocketed in the years following Title IX’s enactment, it’s leveled off in the past decade. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, only 41 percent of all high school athletes are female. More than 1 million fewer girls play high school sports than do boys. The numbers don’t match up, either, when it comes to college scholarship money among male and female athletes.
Still, 2012 looks a lot different than 1972.
Before Title IX came around, school-sanctioned girls sports opportunities were limited, at best.
Before the 1970 school year, girls sports existed primarily on the intramural level. From 1970 to ’72, “game days” for girls were instituted across the state by the IHSA.
It wasn’t a season, just five days in which girls from different schools could compete. But it was a start.
Nevertheless, Burk said, there was talk Title IX was going to open the door to more opportunities for women. Those who had played sports in junior high wanted their athletic careers to carry forward into high school, Burk said.
“We were excited,” Burk said. “We weren’t sure exactly what was going to happen, but just knowing that the girls were going to get to compete was exciting.”
Even after Title IX, reaching equality was a process. Boys coaches, Burk said, weren’t always willing to share their space.
“When I asked for practice areas they said, ‘We’re not jeopardizing the boys program for no ‘blank’ girls,’ ” Burk said. “We were asking for facilities to practice, we were asking for facilities to play and we were getting those answers.
“On my field, they would get dirt from the Illinois River, with big rocks in it, and dump it on my softball field because they didn’t want to pay for dirt that would be nice for the field. I would go out with my team before spring practice and we’d take 28 wheelbarrows of rocks off our infield every year.”
The practice stopped for a while, she said. But in 1992, it happened again. Burk visited new athletic director Kent Irvin.
“I was so mad I got a towel from the gym,” she said. “I took it out there and got all of these big rocks. I put them in a towel, carried them up the stairs at (Lockport) Central and threw them on the floor. The basketball coach (Joe Gura) came running up from his social studies class because the rocks hit the floor so hard.
“He came up and I said, ‘My name is not Rhoda Tiller. I will not be picking up these rocks off of my field. The janitors put them on and the janitors can take them off.’ Kent didn’t know anything about it. But he started buying dirt for the fields. At my retirement party, he presented me with some rocks.”
In 1987, Burk was instrumental in getting signs designating “boys” and “girls” signs taken off the gyms at Lockport.
“We had two women’s physical education classes on each side of a volleyball net because they never let us in the boys gym,” she said. “When we were doing the sex equity sectional for Title IX at the state physical education state conference, they were telling us what the rules were. So the state came and took down the signs and made them Gym 1 and Gym 2. Then we could use both.”
Burk said she made several trips to the school’s Title IX officer over various issues to ensure that her girls got their share.
“They were very compliant after a while. But I think that if I didn’t speak up for the girls I don’t know if it would have gone that way. They knew that I was serious.”
Burk coached softball at Lockport until 2002. She ranks second in IHSA softball history with 685 career victories.
By the time she retired from teaching and coaching, Burk believed boys and girls athletes at Lockport were being treated equally.
Today, Lockport’s softball field is flush with amenities: dugouts, a press box, electronic scoreboard and a fence all around the diamond. The Porters have hosted their share of IHSA regional and sectional tournaments.
“Women’s pay in other areas is not always equitable, and I know that sometimes they offer the man the education with their job, and benefits are different for men than women,” Burk said. “Those kinds of things still need to be dealt with. But as far as girls sports, I think it’s been wonderful.”