When I graduated from Dothan High School in 1972, I had never seen a girl play a sport. The girls were cheerleaders. The boys played sports. There was not much discussion about it and no one seemed to be making much of a fuss.
Girls did take physical education and wore white shorts and shirts while exercising. Most of them hated the awkward fitting outfits as I recalled. Girls that were truly athletic did not have any outlet for their talents. On the other hand, without any sports outlets, many girls never had a chance to be athletic at all.
After four years at Auburn, I moved to Southwest Georgia. Without warning, I was introduced to girls’ basketball. Seminole County had a long and storied history in the annals of high school basketball in Georgia. It dated back for decades and truly produced some amazing female athletes at that time.
Tonight, as Mary Lou and I watched some television, we switched the channels between the NCAA Elite 8 for women’s basketball and the Auburn softball game. South Carolina defeated Maryland on the court. Every woman on the court and probably on the benches could shoot, dribble, and defend better than I ever dreamed I could do. The Gamecocks showed why they are undefeated with 35 wins and no losses.
Auburn was playing Missouri in what has become a very popular sport to watch here on the Plains. The games are fast-moving and entertaining. Many of the Auburn faithful have tickets to both Auburn baseball and softball.
Women’s sports excel in other sports here as well. Tennis, golf, swimming, diving, and of course, gymnastics give women the chance to showcase their talents and compete on a national level.
I only have one granddaughter. She can hang tough with any of my three grandsons. She not only is gifted in the arts, but she is an exceptional volleyball and basketball player. I watch videos of her three pointers and spikes at the net. She is as competitive as I ever was in sports. The difference between my time and hers is that she has the chance.
Title IX was passed in 1972, the same year I graduated from high school. People often complain about government intervention, but in this case, there is no way that millions of girls and women would have had the opportunity to enjoy sports without this legislation. They would have missed out on the team play and camaraderie that is so much a part of athletics. They would have missed out on the life lessons that come with the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.
We have over 200 channels on our television. Tonight, we watched two different women’s sporting events. Not because there was nothing on, but because women’s sports have arrived. I did not watch them because it was my granddaughter playing. I watched them because they were a competition between great athletes. The fact they were female was no longer a factor.
Every time I see a young girl compete only to become a successful athlete at the next stage, I think of all that came before her, paving the way. Billie Jean King was one of the leaders, but there were many others.
There were bumps along the way, and probably still are, but Title IX opened up the world not just to the millions of females that benefit from sports, but to those old men like me who enjoy sports in general. Almost 50 years later, we split our viewing time on a wet Spring night between girls’ basketball and softball. That is Title IX at its best.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com