Editor’s Note: Leading up to the 40th Anniversary of Title IX on June 23, 2012, SWSG is engaging the voices of women of all ages who have been impacted by this groundbreaking legislation. Last month, Diana Cutaia, Director of Athletics at Wheelock College, kicked off the series. This month, Linda Driscoll, Founder of Dream Big!, reflects on how Title IX has affected her own life path.
I am thankful each and every day of my life for the amazing women who paved the way and fought so hard that I, a 50-year-old woman, was able to play organized sports in middle school, high school, and college. I grew up a “tom boy” or so I was called, and don’t remember a day when I wasn’t involved in some type of sport or physical activity. As a young girl, it involved many pick-up games on the streets in our neighborhood or on the beaches on the Cape, but it didn’t matter where we played, I just wanted to play. Fast-forward 40 years as I watch my nieces, who have played organized sports since they were in elementary school, and I realize with every passing day the life-changing impact of Title IX.
I am sad to say that prior to my senior year in high school, I had no idea that, had I been born even 10 years earlier, I may not have had the opportunity to be a two-sport athlete in junior high school and a three-sport athlete in high school. I remember as a young girl, taking gymnastics classes, playing kickball and begging my brothers and their friends to let me play street hockey with them. When my brothers and their friends finally gave in and let me play goalie during their street hockey game (basically, to fire tennis balls at me so I would never ask them to play again), little did they know it had begun my training for what would end up being the goalie position I would play on my high school field hockey team (and the position I had planned to play in college, though a parachuting injury my first week of college placed me on crutches instead of in the goal).
Never once did it ever cross my mind that I couldn’t play because I was a girl. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I learned about Title IX – in a reverse way, as two male athletes tried out for the varsity softball team I played on. When the male athletes were denied the opportunity to play because of their gender, they took the school to court and won the right to play on the team. A school has to provide the same opportunities for boys and girls, which means boys are allowed to play on girls’ teams if the same sport isn’t offered for boys. It was only then that many of the female athletes I knew were educated on the law. We became aware of how lucky we were to have the opportunities we did to play sports year round.
Yes, we were “Title IX” babies. Title IX, a law that was enacted on June 23, 1972, began opening doors for an expansion of opportunities for girls and women in sports. we were the beneficiaries. The law is simple:
“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.”
As I look now, 40 years later, I see the amazing impact of Title IX, the increased number of girls and women playing sports at all levels and at all ages. However, that impact has a long way to go. We need to continue to educate young athletes about the past, so they can continue to support equality in sports today and in the future.
In particular, we need to continue to level the playing field by increasing opportunities for girls from economically disadvantaged communities. This cause is why I started the charity Dream Big! Participating in sports comes at a cost, and no parent should be forced to have to decide between paying the electric bill or buying their child the sneakers or equipment needed for them to participate in a sport they love. Dream Big! works to ensure that all girls, regardless of socioeconomic background, have the equipment, uniforms, sneakers, program fees, training expenses, and supplies that they need to participate in sports and activities that ultimately contribute to their overall health and well-being.
I have heard the saying “everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten.” Well, I learned everything I need to know through playing sports. For that, I owe a debt of gratitude to the women who blazed trails before me. For me, sports are about so much more than competition! The life lessons I learned through sports have carried over into every aspect of my life. The friends and mentors I met through sports are a gift in my life that I will always cherish. Happy 40th Anniversary, Title IX!
“To love a game – to play it – is the greatest joy of childhood.
Only later, do we realize it is the greatest joy in life.”