Sports · July 1, 2022

How Title IX helped make women’s football a US force

Brooke Volza and the other girls who play in the top division of high school soccer in Albuquerque know all about the subway curse – the team that wins the city’s subway tournament early in the season is doomed to the end of the year without a state. championship.

Then, when Cibola High School challenged that fate with Volza scoring the only goal in the team’s 1-0 win against Carlsbad High School in front of a cheering crowd at the University of New Mexico stadium the year last, it was a pandemonium. “I started crying. I started hugging everyone, ”said Volza, 17, describing the experience as“ 10 times incredible ”.

Now the ball he used to score that goal sits on a shelf in his bedroom, covered with his teammates’ autographs and jersey numbers. On it, in large capital letters, are the words “CHAMPIONS OF STATE 2021”.

Fifty years ago, Volza’s experience in sprawling and highly competitive high school football was truly unheard of in the United States. Yet thanks to Title IX, which became law in 1972 and banned sex discrimination in education, generations of girls have been promised to access sports and other educational programs.

And women’s football, perhaps more than any other women’s sport, has grown tremendously over the past 50 years. School administrators quickly saw the addition of football as a cost-effective way to comply with the law, and the growing interest has helped the youth leagues swell. Talented players from all over the world have come to the United States. And as millions of American women and girls have benefited from it, the best have spawned a nationwide US women’s program that has dominated the world stage.

“Once Title IX broke down those barriers and let women and girls play sports, and said they must be given equal opportunities, the girls came running,” said Neena Chaudhry, general counsel and senior consultant for education at the National Women’s Law Center. “They passed in droves.”

Before Title IX passed, an NCAA tally found only 13 women’s collegiate soccer teams in the 1971-72 season, with 313 players.

In 1974, the first year in which a National Federation of State High School Associations survey monitored the participation of girls in the United States, it counted 6,446 girls playing soccer in 321 schools in just seven states, mostly in New York. That number jumped to about 394,100 girls playing football in high schools across the country during the 2018-19 school year, with schools often carrying multiple teams and states sponsoring up to five divisions.

In 2018-19, the last season counted due to the coronavirus pandemic, there were 3.4 million girls participating in high school sports overall, compared to 4.5 million boys.

Many of those athletes have overcome their fears to try for a team. Some trained late into the night, sprinting after joking with teammates. Some have found rivals through competition and many have been grappling with the sting of defeat. Numerous girls and women on the football field have experienced the thrill of a goal and the pride of being part of something bigger than themselves.

“We are the heart and soul of football at Cibola,” said Volza.

Title IX is a broad law and was not originally intended to include sport. Its origins lie in the fight against discrimination against women and girls in federally funded academic institutions. But when the regulations were lifted, they eventually embraced track and field and helped close the gaps beyond the classroom. Today, Title IX is perhaps best known for its heritage in women’s interschool athletics.

Despite initial heavy opposition to the law due to a perceived threat to men’s athletic programs, the NCAA eventually sponsored women’s sports, including soccer in 1982. Before that, only a handful of teams were played across the country. country.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a dynasty that has won 21 NCAA championships and produced inimitable players including Mia Hamm, began its run by playing against high schoolers.

“We really didn’t have anyone to play with,” said Anson Dorrance, the coach of the women’s team since its inception in 1979. She described how she put together a schedule that first season. An itinerant football team, the McLean Grasshoppers, “came to the UNC and beat us like a drum,” he said.

After the NCAA introduced women’s football, participation rates went from 1,855 players across 80 teams across all three divisions in 1982 to nearly 28,000 players across 1,026 teams in 2020-21.

Now, the NCAA says soccer is the largest women’s sports program among universities for the past three decades.

Current and former athletic directors, sports administrators and coaches attribute the rise of football to several factors. Initially, complying with the law was a game of numbers and dollars: football is a relatively large sport, with average roster sizes typically ranging between 20 and 26 players. The generous size of the list has helped schools meet the requirements of the law to offer a similar number of opportunities to male and female students.

For the administrators, football was also cheap: just a field, a ball and two goals were enough. It was also a relatively easy sport to learn.

“Schools at the time were interested in ‘How can I add sports for women that wouldn’t cost me much?'” Said Donna Lopiano, founder and president of Sports Management Resources and former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She added: “The schools were looking for an easy way out.”

The shifts didn’t start until the late 1980s and early 1990s. College programs have increasingly acquired varsity status – often under pressure from litigation – which has created scholarship opportunities and made football a path to higher education. The game had a boom at the high school level, where it became one of the most popular sports, fourth in terms of girls’ participation rates for 2018-19, according to the high school federation (the top three women’s sports were l athletics, volleyball and basketball).

A craft club team industry also arose across the country, as the athletes attracted the attention of college coaches. Youth play has grown and college teams have become an agricultural system for the elite world stage, as women have struggled to play the sport in many countries outside the United States.

The US women’s national team went largely unnoticed when she played her first international match in 1985. She also received little attention in 1991 when she won the first Women’s World Cup, held in Guangdong, China.

Then the United States began to feel the power of Title IX. In 1996, women’s football debuted at the Atlanta Olympics and the United States won gold. During the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, against China, the Americans secured a penalty shoot-out victory in front of a crowd of over 90,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Michelle Akers, the backbone of the USWNT in the 1980s and 1990s, who is now assistant coach for the Orlando Pride women’s professional team, said Title IX was “groundbreaking”. “I can’t even understand the amount of time, energy and pain it took to get it through, and not just to push it further but to strengthen it, making it real to people and making it real to me,” she said.

The national team’s success continued, with a record of four world titles and four Olympic golds. And this year, after a six-year legal battle, a multimillion-dollar deal and eventual labor deal established equal pay for players representing the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams when competing internationally.

“It was a historic moment, not only for football but for sport as well,” said Cindy Parlow Cone, president of US Soccer.

In 1993, Michele Shats was part of a UCLA club team that threatened to sue the school under Title IX for failing to sponsor women’s football.

Sharts, who was barred from the first college team, now has two daughters who play in major college programs. Hannah, 22, started at UCLA before moving to Colorado, where she is a graduate student. Sydney, 20, started in Oklahoma before moving to Kansas State for next season.

Hannah Sharts played in front of 5,000 fans. “Being able to gradually see more and more fans fill the stands during my college experience was very promising,” said Hannah Shats. Both Hannah and Sydney dream of playing professionally.

Like the Sharts sisters, Volza, the rising old woman in New Mexico, plans to play in college. She is looking at Division II and III schools with strong engineering programs.

But first, he has his senior year of high school ahead. Volza said she wanted to be a leader for younger players.

“I want to motivate them and teach them what it’s like to play college football for a state-winning league team,” Volza said.

And Volza wants to make history in his corner of America again, leading his team to win the Metro tournament and state championship in consecutive years.