Jackie Hillyer, Ohio NOW President, has seen first hand how legislation signed 40 years ago today has helped bring athletics out of the dark ages for girls and women. The following is an article written by Bob Ettinger for the Star Beacon, June 23, 2012.
One sentence 37 words long in a large education bill signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972 changed the face of education and sports as they were known. “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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Equal Rights activist Jackie Hillyer, who had served as local president for the National Organization for Women and is now state president and who has long been an educator in Buckeye Local Schools, serving first as a teacher and softball coach and most recently as school board president, has been front and center in the fight for gender equity for more than 40 years.
“Nixon was president,” Hillyer said. “Looking back, he wasn’t the worst president for equality laws, but there was a political group out there that thought the world would end and Western civilization would crash to a halt if women got out of the house. They were too embarrassed to say women shouldn’t go to college or that they shouldn’t play basketball, but they were not much in favor of women having more opportunities. Family values is about keeping women in their roles in the homes.” To this day, Hillyer holds passionate views on the subject.
“She was my softball coach,” Laura Silvieus, who was one of the first two women in the country to receive a full athletic scholarship and played on the Edgewood High School softball teams Hillyer coached, said. “She is a remarkable person. I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves. She was very selfless. She put herself out there and was our coach. Who knows if anybody would have stepped up and given us that opportunity? More people like her and the people at the University of Chicago who made things available for me should get more credit for the movement,” Silvieus said.
A Different Time
Before Title IX, good educational opportunities for women were rare. Very few female students were admitted to the most prestigious academic institutions in the country. It was not uncommon for schools such as Stanford, Princeton, Harvard and Yale to have only a handful of female students in any given graduating class after they went co-ed.
“Girls were held to higher academic standards than boys at the elite colleges,” Hillyer said. “That’s one of the reasons very few women were lawyers or doctors. First of all, it was argued that women shouldn’t take a man’s position because the men needed those jobs. Boys also had so many better opportunities in academics.”
Hillyer can cite an anecdote that speaks to exactly what women had to overcome. “(Supreme Court Justice) Sandra Day O’Connor got into Stanford Law with extremely high credentials,” Hillyer said. “She graduated third behind Chief Justice William Rehnquist. She was out looking for jobs and the only thing offered to her was as a legal secretary. You don’t even have to be a college graduate to be a legal secretary. So she went into public law and finally worked her way up through the judicial system because she couldn’t get into the private sector (as a lawyer). That just goes to show the importance of Title IX. When you’re wasting half of the nation’s intelligence, it can’t be a good thing. The powers behind Title IX were looking to correct injustices such as those. “
“We had no idea,” Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, who helped draft the legislation and now works as a senior scholar for the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C., told ESPNW. “We had no idea how bad the situation really was — we didn’t even use the word sex discrimination back then — and we certainly had no sense of the revolution we were about to start.”
Forty years ago, girls were far behind boys on average when it came to math and science. Much of the reason for that was the lack of educational opportunities for girls. It is commonly believed that still holds true. Hillyer disagrees. “I work with the Ohio Graduation Tests,” Hillyer said. “We find that, statistically, girls do as well as boys. There’s not much statistical difference. Girls are still a little ahead in reading and writing. But they have pretty much closed the gap in math and science. That’s a big victory for Title IX. There have been other advancements, as well. Sixty percent of college students are female, and women make up 42 percent of full-time faculties at colleges,” Hillyer said. “Part of that (60 percent) is that males are more likely to go into the military. They’re also more likely to find good technical jobs.”
Title IX was in no way designed with sports or athletic opportunities in mind. The word sports or athletics is not one of those 37 words signed into law, though in the last 40 years, Title IX and sports have become synonymous. “Initially, it wasn’t about athletics,” Hillyer said. “It doesn’t even mention athletics. It doesn’t say anything about sports. But almost immediately, it was interpreted that girls would have equal athletic opportunities.”
Sports were the last thing on the minds of Sandler, a congress woman from Maryland, Rep. Edith Green of Oregon, Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii or Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana as they pushed to pass Title IX in the early 1970s. “The only thought I gave to sports when the bill was passed was, ‘Oh, maybe now when a school holds its field day, there will be more activities for the girls,’” Sandler said.
The impact of Title IX was fargreater than adding activities at a field day. The number of girls playing high school sports jumped from 294,015 in 1971-72 to 3,172,637 in 2009-10, an increase of 1,079 percent. In comparison, the number of male high school athletes grew from 3,666,917 to 4,455,740 during that same period, an increase of 22 percent. The number of women playing varsity sports in college rose from 29,972 in 1971-72 to 186,460 in 2009-10, a 622-percent spike that still leaves them behind the total of NCAA male athletes, whose numbers grewfrom 170,384 to 249,307 (46 percent) in that time frame.
“We’ve come a long way,” Hillyer said. “Back when Title IX was signed in to law, there were about 300,000 girl athletes. That was eight percent of the total athletes. Now, it’s at 41 percent or about three million. Three million girls are now getting something which I find very important in their physical development that they didn’t have (40 years ago). Sports are something they can keep up with well into middle age. It’s healthy for them. It’s good for them psychologically and mentally. It builds their self-confidence. They get good at teamwork. They know how to work together better. Those are all things they are learning through sports. And there is another great benefit. I have found that girls who are athletes are much less likely to be victims of abuse.”
And the best part of Title IX and girls gaining more opportunities educationally and athletically? “During the last 40 years, boys participation has also increased. It’s been a win-win for everybody. Nobody has lost because of Title IX. It’s not a zero-sum game. One side gaining opportunities doesn’t mean the other side is losing them. Everybody can share the opportunities and benefits.” Hillyer remembers a very important moment in the history of Title IX. “I think it was 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics,” she said. “Joan Benoit came through the stadium (following the first Olympic marathon for women). She was just about to drop. She could barely move and she grabbed our flag and made a full lap around the stadium. Something just snapped for people. It was so emotionally charged that it seemed to signal this indomitable spirit that you couldn’t stop.” There were other moments, as well, that had very little to do with sports. “Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president,” Hillyer said. “Though they lost by a wide margin, it was a signal that things were changing. And, of course, there was the historic candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president and her tenure as secretary of state.”
In the last 40 years, Title IX has served its purpose well. There is little debate that more opportunities for women and girls exist in and outside the sports arena. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything is perfect. Some colleges and thousands of high schools around the country are still not in total compliance. “I was inside in the fight for Title IX from the very beginning,” Hillyer said. “I tried to explain to folks, ADs and others, that Title IX was a law and it had to be followed, that they couldn’t do things to minimally offer opportunities. Few of them are in total compliance (even now).
In the last 10 years, there’s not been much in the way of improvement. Many schools don’t have girls golf. That’s a violation if they have boys golf. And most don’t have another sport (for girls) in the winter (to balance wrestling for the boys).” As Hillyer sees it, there are a myriad of small ways schools can improve on equality for women in sports. “The point is, we can do better at a lot of things,” she said. “Going all the way back, they promoted boys sports with cheerleaders, pep bands and snack shacks. That helped bring people in. If you have those supports for the boys, you must have them for the girls also. A lot of that gets ignored (when it comes to the girls). They don’t seem to get that end of it and wonder why no one’s coming in for girls sports. Fans don’t come in and hear the band and cheerleaders because it’s a girls program.”
Hillyer understands the root of the problem. “It’s not that they are not good people,” she said. “It’s just always been that way. It doesn’t occur to anybody that it isn’t fair. When girls sports started it was low key. They wanted to see if the law was going to work out. Well, it did work out. What many forget is that Title IX is not just a guideline. It is far more. I bring up the fact that it’s a law,” Hillyer said. “People will say they’ve never promoted girls sports as they do the boys. I say laws change, we have to change, too. They’ve been ignoring those aspects of the law so long. They don’t understand why the gate (for girls events) is not as good. They don’t understand they’re not promoting it. They need to look at those things. Along those lines, gender equity in sports has not been achieved in a lot of ways.
For example, if boys teams play on the weekend, there has to be an equal number of weekend dates for girls teams (at each school). For years, girls basketball teams in the area played on Mondays and Wednesdays while the boys played on Tuesdays and Fridays. With the boys playing on Friday nights, under Title IX, the girls are entitled to play on Saturday nights. Many schools locally still do not adhere to that part of the law. They need to look at those things,” Hillyer said. “ One local league, the Chagrin Valley Conference, has taken a look at those things and has made a fair schedule,” Hillyer said. “During basketball season, for part of the season, the boys play on Fridays and the girls play on Saturdays. Midway through the year, they trade nights. Overall, though, there is still ground to be covered. I do think they have to work out the finer points,” Hillyer said. “They can’t think it’s OK to leave things as they are or try to count something that’s not a sport when they can’t come up with a good solution. Some ADs try to count cheerleading and it’s not an interscholastic competition. There’s no state tournament and its not sanctioned by the OHSAA. And on top of that, it should be an activity open to both boys and girls which supports both boys and girls sports.”
Equality On a Different Front
Going deeper than gender, Hillyer also sees great injustices not only to girls, but to boys, as well. “A lot of schools have cut freshmen teams,” she said. “That affects both boys and girls. It’s not a violation of Title IX, but it’s costly in the future. The caliber of the teams is affected, and it’s just not good for the kids. Many kids got a lot of playing time on the freshmen teams and get great experience, but will just sit on the JV team or get cut. It’s an economic move that will hurt the programs.” As an educator, Hillyer understands that extracurricular activities are secondary to education. But she also believes a good extracurricular program can be beneficial. “I believe extracurriculars are a huge part of a kid’s development,” she said. “The primary reason we’re here is academics. Extracurriculars are being pared away. “Most schools are going to pay to participate. That has less to do with Title IX, but has its own issues unless you do it fairly. When it becomes who can afford to play, it’s another type of unfairness. It’s just regarding income and not gender.
Buckeye Local Schools has some measures in place to help with the fairness issue, at least at Braden Junior High. At Buckeye, we allow seventh and eighth graders who are on free or reduced lunch to participate for free or a reduced amount,” she said. “Then, when they’re older, they can earn money in the summer (to help their parents pay for the costs).” But Hillyer doesn’t like the practice of asking athletes or members of the band to pay to take part in their activities. “I really have a problem with it because it’s based on money,” Hillyer said. “Twenty-five dollars, $50 or $100 is a lot of money to a lot of folks. Parents of a young one might say, ‘Maybe next year when we have a little more money,’ but that year is gone. Not playing that year might affect the kid’s ability to get on the team in the future. Opportunities based on the ability to pay get to be really risky business unless there is some system in place that puts everything on a level plane.”
There’s little debate that Title IX has been good to women. It surely has lived up to and exceeded the expectations of what it was supposed to do. Surely, without Title IX, there would be no WNBA, the 1999 Women’s World Cup victory by Team USA would never have happened and millions of girls would not have attended college on athletic scholarships. “There are frustrations we deal with from day to day,” Hillyer said. “But we know the path is headed in the right direction. So many girls have benefited from it in so many different ways.”