MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Suzanne Elson has been teaching and coaching public school athletics for 43 years and the veteran physical education teacher attributes the success of women's sports directly to the Title IX law, which when enacted in 1972 gave girls the same access as boys to school sports.
"I certainly can tell you what Title IX has meant to me and everyone involved in girls' and women's sports," said Elson, who teaches in the Mamaroneck School District and who also has been a Special Olympics coach for more than 30 years. "Growing up and during my first years as a physical education teacher, before Title IX, girls' and women's sports consisted of intramural and some extramural contests. There were also sports "Playdays" where several schools would get together after school to play each other in a specific sport. It was like a one-day tournament, except that there were no trophies etc. But there were no school sports teams for girls."
It was 40 years ago this week that Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972, a bill authored by Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh and known as The Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, opened the doors for female athletes.
The bill, which was enacted June 23, 1972, states: "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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance", and is the reason why young girls grow up aspiring to athletic careers in America. Title IX meant public schools and colleges were required to five female athletes the same access to sports as their male counterparts.
Mink, who was the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress, knew something about shattering the glass ceilings that had restricted women. She also was the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii, and became the first Asian-American to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Part in 1972.
"Once Title IX came into existence, girls' and women's teams started forming slowly and eventually gained equality with boys' and men's sports," Elson recalled. "It was very satisfying to to be a part of the early transition of girls' and women's sports from feeling like second-class citizens in the sports world to confident and worthy sports competitors with school teams equal to the boys and men."
Ask a young female athlete today about Title IX and the necessity of a law allowing them to play "with the boys" and many can not imagine a time when girls and boys didn't have equal rights in sports.
Shari Rauls, a Mamaroneck High School track athlete who was born into another era of sports nearly 25 years after Title IX was enacted, knows she and her teammates have inherited a fuller life because of the law.
"I didn't know this law was passed, but I think it's great that it exists," Rauls said. "Before Title IX, any girl with talent would never have had the same opportunities as we do now. It must have been really hard to be successful as an athlete if you didn't have a team to back you up. There are always some people that can achieve the impossible by themselves, but almost everyone needs the support of a team."
That's the answer Mink, Elson and other pioneers of women's sports in America hoped to hear when Title IX was enacted 40 years ago.