Title IX winners: Women discuss how law impacted their lives

Published: Sunday, June 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Maybe it's the individual nature of the sport, but wrestling is Workman's passion.

Which is why it was so hurtful when she started to experience discrimination in about eighth grade.

"There was a tournament we were planning to go to and my dad was still my coach," she said. "My dad went to the website to find the information and it said, 'No girls allowed.' He said, 'That's not right.' We felt like they were singling me out."

When her father called organizers, they said they were losing participants and sponsors because many young men didn't want to risk facing Workman in competition.

"They said their kids weren't going to wrestle if there was a chance they'd have to wrestle me," she said. "That's when we contacted the ACLU, that's when we got an attorney."

With Title IX as their ammunition, attorneys told organizers they had to let her wrestle. At first, the solution of the tournament directors was to create a girls division and put her in that. But there were no other girls signed up for the tournament, so lawyers pushed to allow her to compete in the boys division, a direct benefit of the law.

"They said, 'Oh, we'll still give her a medal,' " Workman recalled. "I remember when my dad told me that, and I said, 'I don't care about the medal. I just want to wrestle.' That was the first time I'd faced a lot of adversity."

It tested her love of wrestling, as well as her identity as an athlete.

"I didn't see myself as someone different," she said. "It was heartbreaking to think someone was trying to keep me from wrestling … It made me feel really uncomfortable."

Others made it worse by posting "No girls allowed" signs on the bathrooms and locker rooms.

"I took it personally," said Workman, who is now in Colorado Springs training with the U.S. wrestling team after narrowly missing the London Olympic team. "I didn't understand; I didn't do anything wrong. It was very upsetting. My dad told me it wasn't my fault and that they just had to warm up to me."

When she reached the high school ranks, she even had an assistant coach who told her he didn't agree with girls wrestling against boys.

"I was able to change his mind," she said with a giggle. Her best finish representing Uintah high school was second in state at the 3A tournament her junior year.

"We definitely still need the law. In Utah there still aren't enough girls in wrestling to have their own leagues, so they have to be able to compete with the guys. It will be a long time before it's not needed."

Natalie Williams

Natalie Williams was among the first generation of women who grew up idolizing other female athletes.

"I had Cheryl Miller posters all over my wall," said Williams, a 1989 graduate of Taylorsville High, two-sport athlete at UCLA, former professional basketball player and Olympic Gold medalist (2000). "I watched her on TV and I wanted to be just like her. I dreamed of being like her. … I had pictures of her cutting down the net when she was at USC, and I knew that's exactly what I wanted. She looked like me, she was like me, and I knew I could do all of that."

Now a head basketball coach at Juan Diego Catholic High School, Williams said she thinks more about Title IX now than she did when she was an aspiring athlete.

"I definitely think I benefited from Title IX," she said. "I know heading to UCLA that California was one of the states that was quicker at getting girls acclimated equal with boys. We shared practice times, used all of the facilities, it was a big deal."

Williams listened to her mother and her college and professional coaches talk about how women had to play an odd, halfcourt brand of basketball in which a player was always on offense or always on defense.