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50th Anniversary of Title IX: Mind The Play Gap

Fifty years ago, thirty-seven words tucked inside an education bill transformed women's sports in America – and not one syllable mentioned athletics. Title IX of 1972's Education Amendments Act, meant to course-correct gender inequality in the classroom, launched a rallying cry and fiery red flag on the playing field, forever changing the game.

Introducing Title IX: The Bunny Godmother Births A Movement

Bernice "Bunny" Sandler's story is the tinder that caught the movement ablaze. Sandler, one of 8% of women who graduated from college in 1969, soon discovered her coveted degree was worth less than the paper it came on – while interviewing for a full-time teaching position, admin claimed she was "too strong for a woman" and turned her away.

But they barely grasped the beginnings of Bunny's strength. 

Unfolding like any moralist fable or superheroine origin story, Bernice marched with clear-eyed pluck to her Congresswoman, Edith Green. This moment's a reckoning: an integral part of the tapestry of the women's lib movement of the late 60s and early 70s, where the expectations and realities of being a woman in America irrevocably changed.

Representative Green, urged by Ms. Sandler's sister siren and already representing the successes of this second feminist wave as an elected official, oversaw congressional hearings on gender discrimination in education. These testimonies brought forth a slew of stories of outrageous bias and mistreatment in high schools and universities, motivating the passing of the Education Amendments Act. Even though it wasn't part of the initial conversation, athletic inequities soon became the focal point of the new law.

Title IX's Requirements: Reshaping The Student Body

In 1972, the sporting numbers weren't in girls' favor – only 15% of college athletes were female – with high schools, that number dropped to just 7%. Girls' teams, like underpaid public school teachers, had to scrounge for supplies (and uniforms). But Title IX took them out of sports Siberia and into the light.

Title IX became one test schools didn't want to fail, as administrators had to now ensure equitable sporting opportunities for girls in the following purviews:

  • Participation
  • Treatment
  • Proportionality
  • Progress
  • Satisfied Interests

Other assurances included equal access to:

  • Equipment
  • Locker Rooms
  • Practice Spaces/Times
  • Game Schedules
  • Coaching Caliber 

No more changing in the storage room. No more third-hand jerseys. No more sneaker-string budgets. Bernice Sandler's whisper had become a roar, with Title IX rewriting the rule book so that girls didn't only get their cleats in the door of premier athletics – they broke it down.

The Impact of Title IX: The Right To Play

Pre Title IX, before today's high school or college athletes even kicked in the womb, only one in 27 American girls were on a sports roster. By 2016, that number soared to one in five. Women's university sports participation in 1972 was 32,000 – by 2020, the figure shot up to 224,000.

But every winning stat sheet can hide uglier truths. There remains an uneasy gap between men's and women's sports – many schools' athletic budgets consistently dole out more money for the boys. The inevitable counter to explain this disparity away is that men's sports generate more capital, e.g., the NBA's annual revenue is more than a hundredfold that of the WNBA's. 

But dollars shouldn't dictate the whims and wishes of school girls only looking for game time minutes – they needn't deal with uneven playing fields and unjust courts as they ache for the call of a team, the cheer of the crowd, the love of their game.

While women's sports are still light years better off than we were half a century ago, progress remains imperfect as strides in play equity remain. The U.S. Department of Education even doubled down on the initial promise of Title IX this past June, requesting more sweeping protections for a new era.

It's a cause that deserves constant championing – and The St. James is proud to continue carrying the torch for all the daughters who dream of competing.

The St. James & She Got Game Classic

In this spirit of evolving girls' and women's sports in the Greater Washington area and nationwide, The St. James will host the She Got Game Classic this December, an elite girls' high school basketball showcase featuring hundreds of teams and perennial powerhouse programs. It's a chance to spotlight not only the talents of these girls but their female coaches, along with recruitment opportunities to graduate their game to the collegiate level. 

She Got Game is part of the change that Title IX, Bernice Sandler, Representative Green, and the countless women who came before and after helped grandmother in – the tournament's sheer existence represents a victory for girls in sport.

It's also a natural extension of The St. James' track record of nurturing the best in girls' athletics from our national championship-clinching TSJ FC Virginia Soccer Team, the new hiring of NCAA legend Kristen Carr as our Girls' Lacrosse Director, or our perpetually elite girls' volleyball squad.

The She Got Game Classic furthers these efforts, and this team-up promises more multi-sport, girl-centric clinics, combines, and tournaments on the horizon.

The Title That Matters Most

Just as the suffragettes and the 19th Amendment gave women a political voice a century ago, the repercussions of this education bill subsection from the 70s continue to define the possibilities and potential for a new generation of women in sports as we look toward 2023.

The post-Title IX world is a reminder: that for every Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, or Simone Biles, a little girl somewhere scrambles to play a game of H-O-R-S-E on the playground, curiously picks up a pickleball paddle or wide-eyed, watches Olympian gymnasts pulling off the impossible, imagining herself on the podium.

Let them play. For they are women: hear them score.