By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Women’s athletics is the first thing that comes to mind with any mention of Title IX.
However, that legislation goes way beyond the playing fields.
“It’s not about women,” said Pat Lipira, interim vice president for academic affairs at Missouri Southern. “It’s about equal opportunity for people.”
Title IX, signed by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, prohibits discrimination or exclusion — on the basis of sex — at any agency that receives federal funds. That includes approximately 16,000 school districts, 3,200 colleges and universities and 5,000 for-profit schools, libraries and museums, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In addition to sports, the law covers admissions, financial aid, academic programs, classroom assignment, grading, housing and employment.
Women’s athletics began at Missouri Southern in 1974 — two years after Title IX was passed. But these new teams at Missouri Southern had nothing to do with any enforcement of Title IX. They started because some girls went into physical education instructor Sallie Beard’s office and said they wanted to start a basketball team.
“When those girls walked into my office and said they wanted to play basketball, and I said I would help them, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Beard said.
Beard was the first basketball coach at Missouri Southern, and the following spring she coached tennis and helped Roscoe Evans coach the softball team. Beard later coached track and field before moving into adminstration, retiring as the school’s athletics director in 2009.
The volleyball program started at Missouri Southern in 1975, and a small track and field team — four athletes — started competing in 1977. The program was dropped a few years later but restarted in 1991.
“Sallie Beard recruited me (as a basketball player),” said Patty Vavra, one of those early track athletes and now the Lions’ women’s track and field coach. “I told her I’d like to be able to run track, too, and she started a track program my freshman year only for women. We had four women on the track team the first year in 1977. They were very successful before it was dropped.”
Missouri Southern women’s athletics added a cross country team in 1990 and a soccer program in 1999.
This year Missouri Southern competes for MIAA championships in seven sports — volleyball, cross country and soccer in the fall, basketball and indoor track and field in the winter and softball and outdoor track and field in the spring.
Nationwide, more than 200,000 women play college sports today, compared to about 16,000 in 1972.
“It (women’s athletics) has evolved to such an extent ... I don’t think girls and women understand the opportunity they have today that once upon a time women didn’t have,” Vavra said.
Globe staff writer Emily Younker contributed to this story.