She Shoots, She Scores
Published Oct 1, 2007 8:00 AM
Thirty-five years ago, a law was passed that said nothing at all about athletics, but it changed American sports — and UCLA sports history — forever. These are the stories of the pioneers of Title IX.
One Saturday on a dusty Little League field in the San Fernando Valley many years ago, Michele Kort showed the boys how to play baseball.
Title IX at UCLA
Former Bruin basketball great Captain Anita Ortega '79 of the LAPD was a direct beneficiary of Title IX and is one of six UCLA student athletes who star in the university's "Big Moments" ad campaign. You can read more about her story and see her commercial at licensetothrive.org
Not that she was in the game, mind you. Little Michele, not yet 13, played ball with the guys all week on the street, after school, anywhere they could get a game going. But on this warm spring morning, she watched her pals play while relegated to the stands.
Suddenly, a batter connected hard with a pitch and sent the ball sailing out over the fence. On instinct, Michele raced out and retrieved the ball, then threw it back all the way from behind the fence to the infield.
"Hey," the P.A. announcer laughed, "put that girl in Little League."
But of course that was impossible. Michele was a girl, after all.
It didn't matter, though. Kort doesn't remember if people laughed or were amazed; she doesn't remember any of that. What she remembers, she says, is "how it made me feel." And how that moment was one of the inspirations that led her to build a life centered on sports.
With Little League closed to her, Michele Kort '71, M.B.A. '75 tried everything from archery to tennis in search of "a sport where girls consistently got a chance to play and could face some real competition." In the end, she chose basketball, not because of scholarships or money — because there weren't any — but "because I couldn't imagine my life without sports."
Even more unimaginable was what happened barely a year after Kort finished her undergraduate career at UCLA, on a June day in 1972 that changed American sports forever.
Title IX Takes the Field
What changed was the passage of a law called Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Here's what it said: "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."
Here's what it did: Title IX opened the floodgates of opportunity to female athletes, especially at the high school and collegiate levels. Suddenly, women had leagues of their own, and those pioneering female competitors left a lasting legacy for their own daughters.
It's hardly been a slam dunk, though. Title IX has generated controversy, sometimes heated, as institutions across the country struggled with compliance and reduced spending on or cut less profitable men's sports, such as wrestling, swimming and gymnastics. And those first women athletes after the law was passed often had to make do with woefully limited facilities, equipment and access to playing fields.
Despite it all, Title IX gave women the right to sweat, and for UCLA, the result has been glorious.
"Title IX has had a very positive effect on the success of the UCLA athletics program," says Dan Guerrero '74, UCLA director of athletics. "It ensured that we remained able to recruit and retain the best and brightest female athletes in the country. In turn, this has allowed us to develop the finest set of collegiate coaches."
Thirty of the university's record 100 NCAA titles came from women's teams, all in just the past 25 years, "a testament to the success of Title IX," notes Guerrero. That list includes the history-making 100th championship itself, won by the women's water polo team in May.
In 1978, as a member of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, UCLA won its first softball championship, appearing in the title game the following year as well, and then winning the collegiate crown again in 1982, the first year that the NCAA awarded women's softball titles. UCLA also won an NCAA championship in women's track that year.
People who'd been watching and participating in UCLA sports since the advent of Title IX were not surprised.
"Even before the NCAA took over women's sports, UCLA had made a major commitment to them," says Gail Holmes '80, who received one of the first female softball scholarships in the country in 1977. "When I got to play at UCLA, and then when I got the scholarship, it was amazing. I'd been watching my brother play Little League and high school ball my whole life, but suddenly opportunities started opening up for me, too."
Today, Holmes' daughter, Hannah, 12, competes at "club level" in softball, soccer and volleyball. "She's a living legacy of Title IX," says her mom.
"The great thing about coaching in 2007 is that you don't have to take these girls to a museum or give them a book to read to teach them about how far we've come," says Sue Enquist '80, former softball star and now coach of the women's team at UCLA. "I'm like a piece of living history, which is good because they don't want to hear that ‘I remember when bread was a nickel' stuff anyway."
But the pioneers themselves are happy — and justifiably proud — to tell their tales.
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