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Title IX altered sports landscape

Mars guard Alexa McDole drives to the hoop in front of Shaler defender Haley Kostorick at Mars High School in January. Title IX, which was passed in 1972, helped pave the way for women’s sports. Butler Eagle File Photo
Originally targeting education, law jump-started women’s athletics 50 years ago

This is the first in a series of articles commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Thirty-seven words.

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii introduced this bit of legislation to Congress in 1972. On June 23 of that year, President Richard Nixon signed it into law — and Title IX of the Civil Rights act was born.

When Mink died in 2002, Title IX was reworded as “The Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.” Its impact is still being felt today, 50 years later.

“Women’s sports have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go,” Seneca Valley girls basketball coach Dorothea Epps said. “But, thankfully, there are a lot more opportunities for girls in sports now.

“When I played, there was softball, track and basketball ... that was about it for girls. There’s a number of sports — soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, etc. — available now that weren’t around then.”

Epps grew up in Georgia and played high school basketball during the 1970s.

“We had a bunch of basketballs and a bag ... not much else,” Epps said.

Knoch volleyball coach Diane Geist, 61, graduated from Freeport High School in 1979. She said volleyball, basketball and softball were the only high school sports available for her to play.

“I used to practice softball on my own, throwing it off the wall of my church and catching it,” she said. “It was like a rubber ball. I just wanted to improve my skills because I was a tomboy. Girls who had brothers, we played pickup games with the boys.

“Kickball, dodge ball, whiffle ball, those were my games growing up. Girls sports just weren’t very good yet.”

Members of the Mars High School girls basketball team parade through the high school to show off their state championship medals in 2018. Title IX, which was passed in 1972, helped pave the way for women’s sports. Butler Eagle File Photo

In terms of playing for girls teams in high school, Geist said, “At the beginning, the coaching wasn’t the best. As a kid, I didn’t even know what Title IX was. We still have some problems in girls athletics today, but it’s way better than it used to be.”

Moniteau girls track and field coach Sue Scialabba, 53, recalled standing outside of the fence at age 11, watching boys play Little League baseball. She knew she was good enough to play with them and may have been better than a lot of them.

But she felt no regret or sadness about not being able to play.

“It wasn’t even thought of back then,” Scialabba said. “I was never bitter. That’s just how it was. Looking back ... It was wrong, but everyone just accepted it.”

Scialabba added that “kids need to be educated today. They need to understand the way we had it, and the opportunities they have now. We try to tell our girls about Title IX. Otherwise, they may not know what it is or what it’s meant to the growth of sports.”

Mars girls basketball coach Dana Petruska graduated from Deer Lakes High School in 1975. Her first year of competing in high school athletics was 1972 — the year Title IX became law.

Dana Petruska, Mars Area High School Girls Varsity Basketball Team head coach, earned her 500th career win with the Lady Planet’s 57-47 victory over the Plum Mustangs on Feb. 8. Title IX, which was passed in 1972, helped pave the way for women’s sports.

“I didn’t get how important it was at the time,” Petruska said. “I received a scholarship to play (basketball) at Pitt when I graduated and didn’t grasp the significance of that, what it was all about. That opportunity didn’t register with me. I wasn’t even sure I was going to go. One of my teachers, Carol Sprague, had a connection with Pitt and kept encouraging me to go, to take a chance.

“When I did ... That decision changed my whole life. Had I not gone to Pitt, I have no idea what career I would have had. Carol is in Florida now. When I got my 500th win, I got a text from her. I know Title IX affected my life.”

Butler resident Carol McCollough, 79, formed the Senior Olympics of Western Pa. organization — women ages 45 and older comprising basketball and volleyball teams that practice each Saturday at the Butler Cubs Hall. Those teams enter various tournaments and compete in the National Senior Games on a regular basis.

McCollough went to Sykesville High School near DuBois, but did not compete in high school sports.

“We had nothing,” she said. “Organized girls sports just didn’t exist.”

McCollough went on to become a teacher at Grove City High School. She started the girls basketball team there.

“Girls had played some games there before, but it was never organized. There was no league,” she said. “Our first practice, we had 88 girls come out. They wanted to play. I didn’t believe in cutting anyone.

“Whoever wasn’t good enough to play, we formed a pep club, and they were part of the team that way. It was important to keep that interest going.”

Women come from miles away to play for the Senior Olympics of Western Pa., many because they finally have a chance to get on the court and compete.

Susan Heiss, 70, of Norwich, N.Y., is one of them — because she remembers. She talked about her youth basketball years during The Rivalry at The Rock Seniors Tournament in May.

“You could only take three dribbles and you had to pass the ball,” she recalled. “There were two stationary guards, two stationary forwards. If you played defense, you weren’t allowed to cross the center line. It was a totally different game.

“I know women my age on oxygen tanks who are still playing. It’s real basketball, and I love it.”

Petruska can understand such feelings.

“Girls basketball used to be six-on-six, wearing skirts,” Petruska said. “It’s exciting how far we’ve come and we’re still going.”