Title IX molds ASU women’s athletic success

It has been 40 years since Title IX has been passed, a federal law stating women should be given the same opportunities as men at any school that is receiving federal funds.

Mary Littlewood, cofounder of women’s sports at ASU, has been there through the progress.

“The only competition we had was play days and sports days,” Littlewood said. “A bunch of schools would come over, say to our campus, and it was suppose to be a social event.”

The time was 1965.

She was coaching many sports prior to Title IX, including badminton and field hockey.

“Winning was not supposed to be important,” Littlewood said. “It was more important to have tea and cookies afterward. Pre-Title IX, the feeling was that women weren’t physically able to compete emotionally, mentally, whatever.”

Bernice Sandler, Title IX expert and women’s rights activist, played a huge part in Title IX’s implementation. The New York Times dubbed Sandler, “the godmother of Title IX.”

She said specific Title IX negotiations stemmed from a bigger movement.

“The women’s movement begins in the mid ‘60s and that’s taking place alongside Title IX,” Sandler said. “They are intimately related.”

Sandler said implementing women’s athletics wasn’t Title IX’s main objective, but ended up doing more than expected for women’s sports.

“When Title IX was passed, nobody really knew it was going to cover athletics,” Sandler said. “There were about six of us who knew. Most of us had no idea how bad it was in athletics.”

Sandler said she remembered talking to someone who was thrilled with Title IX because it would allow for longer play days for women. It would end up doing much more than that.

Littlewood said when she was younger, she was one of many female athletes who just wanted to compete. For women, however, sports were only considered as social gatherings.

Littlewood said back in the late 1960s when she was coaching, the play days or sports days at ASU consisted of women from UA, Mesa Community College, Phoenix College, Glendale Community College and nurses from Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, coming to play basketball, softball, volleyball and field hockey. A winner was never declared during these play days, she said.

From there though, Littlewood said ASU women started to realize they weren’t receiving the same opportunities as men.

According to an ASU news release about Title IX’s 40-year anniversary, in 1975, ASU added women’s basketball and three other sports to its athletics program within the next four years.

From 1973 to 1977, ASU saw six different women’s teams bring home a total of 10 national championships. Twelve of ASU’s 23 NCAA championships belong to women’s teams — seven from women’s golf and three from women’s outdoor and indoor track and field.

Of those, softball has two very recent NCAA championships: One in 2008 and one in 2011. The NCAA allows for 12 scholarships to graduating high school athletes for softball. Coach Clint Myers has led ASU softball to the College World Series the past six out of seven seasons. With all the success he and his teams has had, Myers is appreciative of the growth society has made with this legislation.

“Basically, we weren’t educated to the importance and need for Title IX,” Myers said. “You look at how society has changed. We’re growing, and we’re a lot more knowledgeable and the change has been for the good.”


Read the reporter at gdemano@asu.edu

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