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Girls in Sports: Celebrating 35 Years of Title IX

Title IX

Parents today take for granted that our both our sons and daughters will play team sports like soccer, Little League baseball, or basketball. And it is true that compared to young women in other countries, those in the US enjoy unprecedented access to sports. Note the following facts:

  • Over 150,000 young women participate in collegiate sports
  • One out of 3 (or 2.8 million) girls play high school sports
  • Over 40 percent of AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) soccer players are girls

Yet not so long ago, this wasn't the case.

In 1971, only 30,000 US women played college sports; 294,000 played high school sports; and AYSO had just started its very first girls' soccer program in California.

How could things change so dramatically for girls born less than a generation apart? Two words: Title IX.

First and foremost, Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 guarantees the following: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

While the law applies to all aspects of education, including college admissions and vocational education, most people know about Title IX because of sports.

Women in their 20s and 30s today, who came of age in post-Title IX America, enjoyed access to youth and collegiate sports that older sisters or cousins -- women who today are in their 40s and 50s -- may not have had just a few years earlier.

Shannon Cross, 36, mother of a young girl and a boy, recounts: "I played AYSO girls' soccer starting at age 9, and then before my junior year my high school started a girls' soccer team. When it was time to apply to colleges, whether they had an NCAA women's soccer team was really important to me. I ended up at Claremont McKenna College, which was Division 3." Cross notes that UCLA didn't even have a women's NCAA soccer team at the time.

Jane Ancel, 43 and a mother of two boys, recalls: "My mother [took] my brother and me down to sign up for Little League when I was 11 and he was 9. There were only 6 girls total signing up that year in our town, and we all knew each other. All the girls made the major league or top teams. I don't remember the boys bothering us too much that first year, but by the second year, I was in 7th grade and there was more pressure from the boys. I wanted to quit but my parents would not let me. In 8th grade I did quit because there was no point. Girls were not allowed on the high school baseball team, and our school had no softball team back then."

Though many people have heard of Title IX, few truly understand its full meaning and intent.

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