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When President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law, it prohibited sex discrimination in all education programs and activities that received federal funds. More specifically, it said “No person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any academic, extracurricular, research, occupational training, or other education program or activity operated by a recipient which receives Federal financial assistance.”

Former Senator of Indiana Birch Bayh introduced and was a champion for the legislation. In his remarks on the Senate floor, he said the impacts of the law would be far-reaching, but not a panacea, in the fight for equal rights.

“It is, however, an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs—an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice, to develop the skills they want, and to apply those skills with the knowledge that they will have a fair chance to secure the jobs of their choice with equal pay for equal work,” Bayh said.

At its heart, Title IX is civil rights legislation applied in all aspects of education, but 50 years later, Title IX is best known for opening the doors for girls to participate in high school and college athletics programs. It’s hard to imagine that prior to 1972, girls were often without the opportunity to play high school basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer or any number of other sports that have become such an integral part of the educational experience.

With the 50th anniversary of its signing just months away, Green Mountain High School invited women considered trailblazers for competing in and helping to establish athletic teams of the 1970s and 1980s to be honored during halftime at a recent girls basketball playoff game. Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Autumn Sereno introduced the women at the event.

“It was a great atmosphere. We ended up hanging out and chatting. Some of the women brought photos and one brought her letterman’s jacket, which was one of the first letter jackets that were made for females,” Sereno said. “Some of those women went on to coach, and a lot of them received athletic scholarships because it was the beginning of women’s sports and colleges were starting programs. So, a lot of them had opportunities that they might not have had without Title IX.”

For a couple of weeks leading up to the event, the school printed up bio’s of some women who’d been true leaders in establishing Green Mountain’s programs, for current students to read. The school also used the event as an opportunity to educate students on Title IX, its history and common misconceptions surrounding the law.

Chris Beal worked as a coach at Columbine High School soon after the newly signed law kicked in. She said she thinks Title IX gave the people working for girls’ athletics the legality and the clout to help affect change, even though that change wasn’t readily accepted in the early days.

“In 1972, girls I coached had track, gymnastics and tennis,” she said. “Everything else has been added since 1973. So, the kids today don’t know that there was a time when they couldn’t just play Lacrosse or join the soccer team.”

Sandy Austin was among the first generation of female athletes at post-Title IX Green Mountain High School. After taking part in the halftime celebration, she reflected on the 40 years since she played basketball for the school.

“Our blood, sweat and tears are on these floors out here,” she said.  “And for them to honor us — I think this is one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had. It was very powerful for all of us.”

Austin said leadership qualities she gained from coaches and other role models were one of the most valuable things she took from her days as an athlete. 

“The things we learned on those teams — teamwork, perseverance, self-sacrifice, looking out for your team members, keep going when things get tough — the girls learn through the example of coaches and officials and teammates,” she said. “They’re raising the bar and saying, ‘You can do it.’”