When Peggy Wagstaff Smith graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1973, some athletic opportunities for female students existed — there was tennis, drill team and swimming, but no girls' basketball, Mrs. Smith said Thursday.
So her classmates at Lee were excited when a new federal law called Title IX was enacted in 1972, allowing women the same access to educational opportunities, including sports, as men had.
Congress enacted the law 40 years ago today, prohibiting sex discrimination in any program or activity receiving federal funds.
The daughter of longtime Tyler Junior College coach and athletic director Floyd Wagstaff said when she began coaching girls' basketball at Whitehouse High School in 1976, young women still played a half-court game.
Soon after Mrs. Smith joined the Whitehouse coaching staff, women's basketball went to a full-court game, partly because college basketball for women went to full court.
The other reason for the change to full-court basketball for women was because of the enactment of Title IX.
Although most people associate Title IX with college athletics, the law covers many other areas of education, Tyler attorney John Hardy said.
Hardy's law firm represents Tyler Independent School District and about 100 other school districts in Texas.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities receiving federal funds, Hardy said. The law also affects private schools that receive any federal funds for their programs, he said.
“Some outgrowths of Title IX have been (schools) dealing with subjects like dating and sexual violence,” he said.
Hardy said the law also has increased opportunities for women in higher education and in career areas such as the sciences, engineering and law.
“When I was in law school in 1970, there were two women in my class. The national average in law schools is 47 percent now. Fewer women were in medical school then, also, but more than half of all medical students are women — this is all due to Title IX,” he said.
The law requires every school district to have a Title IX coordinator, Hardy said. Typically, if a parent thinks the school is violating Title IX in some way, the parent will contact the principal, who in turn contacts the coordinator, Hardy said.
“It (the law) is more accepted in the education world now, and educators try to follow it,” he said. Title IX applies at the university level in the same way it does to public and private schools, Hardy said.
If an institution violates the law, federal funding can be withheld and the U.S. Department of Justice can file a suit against the district or institution for discriminatory practices, Hardy said.
Johanna Denson, 55, who served as the first woman athletic director in TISD from 2000 to 2003, agreed that Title IX opened a lot of doors for women in athletics. She is now the first woman in Waco ISD to hold the position of athletic director, where she has worked for the past eight years.
She said when she was hired for the TISD position, there were a lot of naysayers in the ranks who thought that a woman could not do the job.
“I knew I had to sell myself, and most of the people in the community knew me. I didn't feel the position was about being a male or female,” she said.
Ms. Denson said she was asked about her experience as a coach and about the fact she had never coached football.
“I said I was not here to coach football. I said, 'I'm not here to coach a sport, I'm here to hire good people who know about football and these sports,'” Ms. Denson said.
She said she knew she would present herself as an educator and a coach.
“The question was if I had the skills to lead the district and successful athletic programs,” Ms. Denson said. TISD called her soon afterward and offered her the job, she said.
Ms. Denson said she was fortunate to have good mentors within TISD, including Don Barton who hired her to be the head women's basketball coach at John Tyler High School, where she also taught biology for 17 years. Billy Hall, who followed Barton as athletic director, was another influence in her career, she said.
Ms. Denson ran track and played basketball at Chapel Hill High School in the mid-1970s. But the girls had to practice in an old gym at that time, she said. The old gym was substandard and there were no showers. The boy's gym, which was newer, was much nicer, Ms. Denson said.
The opportunities for women were much more limited in college at that time, she said. “I had friends who went to Baylor University (and played softball), but it was only the pitcher and catcher who received scholarships at that time,” Ms. Denson said.
One of the negative sides of Title IX has been that some college scholarships have been directed away from men's sports programs and “devastated” some of the men's programs, Ms. Denson said. “I think it's best to try and make things equitable on both sides,” she said.
The number of women participating in college athletics has grown by 545 percent since Title IX was enacted, and by 980 percent in high-school athletics since the law was enacted, according to information from the Women's Sports Foundation. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1974 by tennis champion Billie Jean King to advance the lives of girls and women through physical activity, according to the website.
“Without Title IX,” the statement reads, “there would not be as many opportunities for girls and women to participate.”