CAROL FRITZ remembers reviewing the architect's plans for a field house at Western Maryland College. It was in the '70s, not long after Richard Nixon had signed Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs.
"There were big locker rooms and little locker rooms," says Fritz, now associate athletic director at the Westminster college. "The big ones had banks of urinals. The little ones had sanitary napkin disposals."
Citing the new law, Fritz and her female colleagues appealed to the college president, Ralph John, who promptly ordered some of the larger locker rooms converted for use by women -- at a
cost of $7,000.
Equalized locker rooms weren't all that Title IX changed at Western Maryland and at thousands of schools and colleges across the land.
Signed 25 years ago Monday, the law opened wide the door for girls' and women's participation in sports. It also changed attitudes of classroom teachers.
"Title IX just totally changed our lives," says Fritz. "We had four sports for women in 1972. Now we have 10. And I resist the notion that things would have changed without Title IX. It was the law that really spurred the changes we've seen."
Comprising 37 words, Title IX was an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Its effectiveness has been spotty. Schools and colleges took years to comply; many still resist. The men's "money sports," football and basketball, still dominate campuses and sports pages. Federal enforcement has been lax.
Still, the number of girls and women who participate in school sports has risen from 300,000 before Title IX to more than 2 million today.
What's encouraging is that much of the action is at the schoolgirl level. Girls are swarming over soccer, softball, hockey and (in the East) lacrosse fields.
About 250 colleges have competitive rowing programs, and students at the secondary level are thinking ahead. A hardy band of Bryn Mawr School girls begins weekdays during the spring crew season with 7 a.m. practice.
Such activity is paying off in athletic scholarships formerly denied women. A partial scholarship in lacrosse, for example, helped Phoebe Flowers O'Neill attend the University of Virginia when she graduated from Baltimore's Friends School.
"I was never a sensation," says O'Neill, 33. "I was a varsity reserve. But having some athletic ability was a way to get the attention of a school I had my heart set on attending."
Playing collegiate sports helps women in another way, says O'Neill, now in a public relations job in Baltimore. "It gives women confidence not just that they can succeed in college but that they can be successful in what used to be a male-dominated work force," she adds.
Amy Cohen, a second-grade teacher at Baltimore's Morrell Park Elementary School, was 2 years old when Nixon signed Title IX six days after the Watergate burglary that was to destroy his presidency.
Cohen became a champion gymnast at the same New Jersey high school where her mother had been a cheerleader. She was a junior at Brown University when the Ivy League school six years ago dropped gymnastics and three other varsity sports. Last week, Cohen was honored in Congress as the lead plaintiff in a successful Title IX suit against Brown.
"I never imagined this," Cohen says. "But if I've helped girls realize that it's all right to play sports, then I'm happy."
Title IX's successes notwithstanding, Western Maryland's Fritz says full gender equity is a long way off. Statistics support her. Female athletes in all of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's divisions last year received $142.6 million less in scholarships than their male counterparts, according to the Women's Sports Foundation. Women coaches earn less than men coaches, even when men coach women's sports.
"Once colleges started pumping money into women's sports, they became a fertile ground for men to coach and administer," says Fritz.
Cescili Drake, 23, went from Howard County's Mount Hebron High School to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a four-year basketball scholarship. Sports, she says, "are part of me as a person. They've taught me to deal with stress and how to endure at the times when you think you can't go anywhere, and they've helped me with people skills."
Now in medical school in Chapel Hill, Drake is asked if she attributes her success to Title IX.
"What's Title IX?" she asks. And that's Title IX's ultimate tribute.
'Emerging' women's sports include ice hockey, squash
Besides rowing, what are the other "emerging sports" for women? In a recent report, the NCAA listed these:
Ice hockey: Forty teams compete in the United States, and about 12,000 girls and women are playing. The women's version of the sport prohibits "checking," or hard hits to an opponent's body.
Synchronized swimming: Thirty schools compete. About 4,000 women participate, 90 percent in college. "Recruitment opportunities appear plentiful," says the NCAA.
Team handball: Seven institutions offer it as a "club sport," but a move is under way to make handball a varsity sport.
Water polo: Twenty schools offer varsity teams, and women's water polo is expected to be an Olympic sport in 2000.
Badminton: This is one of America's favorite sports -- 300,000 play it in high school and college, 54 percent of them women.
Bowling: One hundred and sixty colleges have intercollegiate teams.
Squash: Thirty colleges field competitive women's teams. Squash is one of nine sports being considered for the 2000 Olympics.
Pub Date: 6/25/97