The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 23, 2012

Fortieth anniversary of Title IX a study in social progress

Legislative milestone about more than women's sports

Pat Lipira grew up around sports. Her father played fast pitch softball; her brother played Little League baseball. Lipira would help warm up the pitchers on her brother’s team and play catch with them.

But when it came time to play ball, “there was nothing for me,” said Lipira, who grew up during the 1960s. “All I knew was I wanted to play. My brother was playing baseball, and I was the batgirl, and I wanted to play.”

Lipira began playing summer softball on a girls team just before her teenage years. During high school, she played on every intramural sports team available to her.

No competitive girls teams existed at her school in St. Joseph, so she tried out for and played with the boys tennis team. “But I couldn’t play baseball,” she said.

That would begin to change on June 23, 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed a piece of legislation commonly referred to as Title IX. Its impact wasn’t immediate, and it wasn’t recognized by most people at the time as being historic.

But in the past 40 years it has changed the country’s cultural landscape. Rooted in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, it helped pave the way for millions of underrepresented individuals to realize their potential.

Title IX prohibits discrimination or exclusion, on the basis of sex, at agencies that receive federal funds. That includes about 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.

The law covers a broad range of programs and activities, including admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, athletics, housing and employment.

Lipira graduated from high school in 1974 and finally played softball competitively during college. Now the interim vice president for academic affairs at Missouri Southern State University, she said one of the most important aspects of the gender-neutral law is that it protects both sexes.

“It’s not about women,” she said. “It’s about equal opportunity for people.”

Sallie Beard, now retired after several years as Missouri Southern’s athletics director, also highlights that as crucial to understanding Title IX.

“The language in the law is to serve the underrepresented gender,” and that is often — but not always — women, she said.

Beard has seen firsthand the effects of Title IX. In 1974, near the beginning of her career at the university, she was approached by a group of young women who wanted to start a basketball team.

She agreed to help them. Together, they organized a schedule, including practices at 5:30 a.m., and they were given a $2,000 budget that was to cover their travel and uniforms.

“And it all started from there,” she said.

The following spring, Beard helped create the women’s tennis and softball teams. Years later, women’s track and field, volleyball and soccer were also added. She never had trouble putting together a team.

“I think there was a good deal of interest,” she said. “It provided enough inertia on its own to start a program.”

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