In praise of Title 9 (from someone who never benefitted from it)

iStock_000016768724XSmallI’ve been watching the Olympics, as you probably are, too. This is the first year that women were allowed to compete in the ski jump competition.

What took you so long, IOC?

To someone who was excluded from participating in sports, this is wonderful news for women. I wish I’d had the option to participate. I wonder what would have happened if I’d had that choice.

In the spring and summer in my hometown, we made our own adventures. For the boys who played sports, they could join a Little League baseball team and play their way through the summer, but there was nothing for the girls.

I got to watch the Little League games. My mother would make popcorn and scoop it into little brown paper bags for the concession stand. My father was an umpire. Since I couldn’t play, I learned how to score the games, not that it mattered to anyone but me.

My Girl Scout troop took tennis lessons one summer. Our troop leader was a nurse and one of her doctor friends let us use his private tennis court for lessons. I loved what we learned and would have played regularly if I could have found an opponent. On the few occasions when I did, our matches went something like this:

  1. I’d serve the ball and she would miss. Time out while she retrieves the ball.
  2. I’d serve the ball and she would return it! i’d miss the ball. Time out while I retrieved it.

At some time, one of us would suggest that we not keep score. No point to it, really.

Let’s be honest: many of us never entertained the thought of excelling in sports because “Girls don’t do sports.” I was never taught to throw or catch a ball. It never occurred to anyone that I might enjoy it.

My father did buy me a single golf club (a 7 iron) and taught me how to swing a club. I did get good at that.  We didn’t belong to a country club, though, so I’ve never been on a golf course. Besides, I think it would have taken me a long time to play a round of golf with just that  7 iron.

He showed me how to bowl and bought me a powder blue left-handed bowling ball. I joined a league but was never very good at it. Then I discovered that the boy who was purportedly the best bowler in our junior league cheated. He would always be the scorekeeper and managed to pad his score by 4 or 5 pins each frame.

In high school, there were many team sports for the boys. But not the girls.

Physical education was mandatory for freshmen and sophomores and that is where I grew to hate sports.

They hired a woman who had played tennis competitively, but she did not teach us tennis. She did not teach us anything. She made up ridiculous exercises for us to do.

We would play volleyball with a beach ball because we did not want to smudge the low-ceiling of the gym. If you did mark up one of the ceiling tiles with your ball, you were given a detention.

We played an equally ridiculous version of basketball called half-court. We could only dribble the ball three times and then we had to pass it off to another one of the fragile females on the team.  Offense and defense had to stay on their respective ends of the court.  I could have easily done my Geometry homework while playing a game.

So why wouldn’t I hate sports?

Then I went to college where I had to endure another 2 years of physical education. I took bowling and golf and learned nothing. One semester I accidentally got registered for curling. I walked down to the Ice Arena to see what it was: shuffleboard on ice. I quickly dropped the class and signed up for another semester of bowling.

Our university had about 15,000 students. At that time, there were few opportunities for women who wanted to participate in sports. As I page through my college yearbooks, there are no women represented in the “Sports” section, save the intramural sports.

I would have been fine with the differences between mens’ and womens’ sports except for this: Scholarships.

I remember a friend who was a wrestler. He was there on scholarship because he was a good wrestler. The fact that the man could not arrange a subject-verb-object into a 3-word sentence didn’t seem to matter to the university.

I’ve never seen the point of a sports scholarship. Women didn’t matter in sports. Academic scholarships were another matter entirely.

I graduated from college two years before the United States Congress passed a law commonly referred to as Title 9. It says:

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…

And that, as they say, changed everything.

Now I see the women competing in hockey, and skiing, and, finally, ski jumping and I think this is long overdue. Women can finally participate as equals on the sports field. I cheer them all on.

I must admit that I still don’t get curling, though.

2 thoughts on “In praise of Title 9 (from someone who never benefitted from it)

  1. Oh gosh…. did we go to college together. My university had 15,000 and also curling… don’t they use a broom… should have been suitable for women back then. I never understood why my dear sweet mother played basketball (she graduated in 1941) and played real games with real opponents from other area schools. Then when I went to school 27 years later…. there was no girl’s sports.
    Fragile basketball… I remember that. I was often a roving something or other.
    Thanks for the memories!


    1. And let’s not mention the “bloomers” — those hideous one-piece gym uniforms. It was as if they wanted us to hate sports.
      This is probably why my personal motto is: “I never sweat on purpose.”


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