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Girls' Sports and Title IX

06/18/02 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(Kunin) Remember the stunning performance of the women's basketball team last winter at UVM? The crowd was jubilant, the gym was packed. Thirty years ago such a sporting event featuring women would have been unthinkable. What sparked the revolution of women in sports in high school and college? A simple law called Title IX, enacted in 1972 game women an equal shot on the playing field. They say that laws can't change behavior; Title IX proves otherwise.

Competitive sports do all the same wonderful things for women as they do for men: team spirit, confidence, competence and health and fitness.
What does the law say? If a school sponsors an athletic program, it must provide equal athletic opportunities for both sexes.

What has the law accomplished? In 1972 there were fewer than 300,000 high school girls playing competitive sports. Today there are nearly three million. In my college year there wasn't a single women's competitive event. Women athletes were invisible. Today, they are everywhere. But as we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Title IX this month, there are some who want to change it. The National Wrestling Coaches Association is suing the U.S. Department of Education because they complain that equal participation for women has forced school to drop some men's sports. They object to the criteria that sports be available to women and men in proportion to enrollment. The women's sports foundation responds, "Not way." The real culprit is football, which gobbles up a big slice of the athletic budget. Male athletes still receive $1.1 million dollars more than women.

The response of the Education Department has been to continue to support Title IX, but also to "review" the criteria. Whether that means a weakened Title IX is hard to tell. What is clear is that Title IX deserves our unqualified support. With only 20% of schools and colleges in full compliance, the law needs to be expanded, not contracted.

Title IX has made it possible for little girls to have different images of what women can do. When my grandsons toss baseball with their father in the backyard, my granddaughter doesn't just watch. She wants to play, and she gets her turn. To make sure that all girls get the turn to play competitive sport, we must keep Title IX. It has given us a lot to cheer about.

This is Madeleine May Kunin in Burlington.

Madeleine Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.
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