Nancy Ellis remembers when the only sport for girls in high
school was tennis. Joe English hasn't forgotten when the
girls were forced to play basketball in the spring. Lois
Thompson harkens back to her high school days when earning a
varsity track letter meant running with the guys.
Oh yeah, baby, women's sports have come a long way since the
implementation of the Title IX gender equity act, which went
into effect 30 years ago Sunday.
"It was much needed legislation back at the time," said
English, the girls basketball coach at Chaparral High
It certainly was. In 1972, girls weren't supposed to involve
themselves in rigorous activity, and few did. Tennis and
badminton were for women. Heaven forbid they'd want to play
a team sport.
"I was a freak," said Thompson, the Chaparral girls track
coach who graduated from Central High School in Phoenix.
"Most of my friends didn't do athletic things. They didn't
train. It was due to Title IX, that women realized the value
of competition in sports."
Ellis, who retired this week as softball coach at Dobson could only
play competitive tennis (started in 1961) when she was attending Chandler
High in the 1960's. At Arizona State, she wanted play softball but there
was no program. Upon graduation from ASU in 1968 she took a teaching
job in Orange, Calif. to play softball and nationally competitive badminton.
An earthquake, however, brought her back to Arizona, to Mesa
High in 1971, and she began to change the attitudes toward
girls sports in the state.
"It was intramural back then. Girls weren't allowed to run
long distances and all that garbage," she said. "They had a
lot of misbeliefs back then."
Did the ever.
Early in the 20th century, girls did play basketball. That
is until it was decided that "it was unladylike for girls in
skirts to play basketball," said state prep historian Barry
Sollenberger. So a 10-year run of holding a state tournament
at the University of Arizona ended in the mid-1920's,
The Arizona Interscholastic Association, founded in 1925,
now sponsors sports for girls in basketball, tennis, soccer,
softball, badminton, volleyball, golf, cross country,
swimming, and track and field.
Change came according to how progressive district and school
administrators were to responding to the edicts of Title
"I knew it would be an avenue for us to get things done
whenever we wanted to," Ellis said. "If they delayed, you
just slapped them with title IX information, and they had to
go along immediately."
The results have been dramatic.
In the most recent report filed with the federal government,
Arizona had 54,962 boys playing high school sports and
34,392 girls for the 2000-01 academic term.
Nationally, in the year before Title IX in 1971, boys
playing high school sports totaled 3,666.917, while the
number of girls playing was 294,015, according to the
National Federation of High Schools. For the 2000-01 term,
boys numbered 3,921,069 while the girls had increased to
English said having the girls play basketball in the spring
in the 1980's limited participation. When he moved over from
junior varsity coach to run the girls team in 1976-77 there
were only seven schools playing varsity basketball.
"The first couple of years we went as far as we could, to
the state finals, and played 15 games," he said. "The boys
were playing 25 to 30. We had to play in the spring because
of the facilities. No one said, 'Let's alternate, boys in
the winter one year, girls in the winter another year.'"
For four years the AIA crowned spring and fall girls
champions until all the girls played along with the boys
beginning in 1993-94. In a male-dominated arena, women
coaches have to stand their ground and educate the male
counterparts that their endeavors were just as important to
them and their athletes. Turf wars ensued.
"That's my track. That's my infield," Thompson said of
Chaparral's stadium. "Sometimes I think the football coaches
think it's all their. Well, it's not."
She added. "We don't fight with the football team. The last
five, six years it's been a much better situation."
The addition of new sports and new coaches raised the issue
of compensation. Eventually, the school districts had to
find a means to develop a gender-blind compensation
"That was big," Ellis said. "We were paid half of what the
men were for the exact same season."
Now a head coach's pay is determined by number of
participants, the number of assistant coaches and the length
of the season, Ellis said.
As a father, English said Title IX was responsible for him
not having to pay for his daughter Christi's education. She
got a basketball scholarship to the University of San
"She came along at the right time and I was very thankful
for that," he said "She's a title IX proponent, and she
keeps me on the straight and narrow."
But Ellis said a downside of the explosive growth at the
college level is that too many parents are pressuring their
daughters to get scholarships instead of allowing them to
enjoy their activity.
"Today's coaching sometimes gets away from the morality and
sportsmanship, all the things we were taught in the past,"
she said. "Now, is you're a good coach, you make sure you
get your kids college scholarships. Today's athlete thinks
of financial help to move up to college. It's no longer a
fun thing. It's a serious thing that's drawn the brutality
out of parents because of the financial aspects."
Title IX has been around for 30 years but every now and then
the ugly past surfaces. A few years ago Desert Mountain High
School got in trouble when it built unequal baseball and
softball fields, with one of the major differences that the
baseball field had covered dugouts and the softball field
"What's surprising is that somebody hadn't taken leadership
and slapped them upside the head and reminded them, this is
illegal," Ellis said.
"That was very narrow-minded thinking." Thompson said.
Girls nowadays can train and pursue their sport as much as
the boys. Thanks to the landmark legislation they receive
similar equipment, coaching and access to facilities. They
can continue to pursue their passion in college, getting top
notch coaching and using the same training facilities as the
"We've had more girls get scholarships than boys," English
said with a bit of pride, "As they saying goes, they've come
a long way, baby."