It's because of Title IX that I'm in the position I'm in today, and that I've been in for the past 25 years. —Kendra Tomsic
SALT LAKE CITY — It was just one section of a huge education package referred to as Title IX, signed 40 years ago Saturday by then president Richard Nixon. But those few paragraphs forever changed the landscape of sports by offering girls and women opportunities they'd only dreamed about having before that summer day.
It would take years and hundreds of court battles, but eventually Title IX would be credited with bringing gender equity to one of the most male-dominated aspects of our lives – athletics. Those changes are not without controversy, they are not confined to sports and there have been many debates in the past decade about the necessity of some aspects of Title IX.
But in spite of the issues and arguments, there is no doubt Title IX changed the lives of thousands of people. On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the Deseret News asked some local women to reflect on how and whether this landmark law impacted their lives. These are their Title IX stories:
Kendra Tomsic graduated from high school a year after Title IX was passed.
"I had no clue what that legislation was until years later," she said of how the federal law would impact her life. "All I knew is that I didn't get to play (sports) and my brothers did."
The daughter of a Carbon County coal miner, Tomsic, 57, learned to play baseball thanks to her older brothers. They gave her a glove and she tagged along whenever they went to practices and games.
"Sometimes the coaches would let me do some of the stuff with the team, but I could never play," said Tomsic, now the athletic director and head volleyball coach at Rowland Hall St. Mark's High School. "I was the scorekeeper for the Little League when I was 9 because it was the only way I could be close to the game.
When she was 12, an older girl started a slow pitch softball team and recruited some of the other girls and women who were willing to play in a recreation league.
"That was my first organized sports experience," Tomsic said. "We played with a 16-inch softball. … We had to shot put it to first because there was no throwing that thing."
And while Tomsic wasn't allowed to play organized sports, she still pursued athletics as a profession.
"I don't know what I was thinking," she said, laughing. "It was just something I loved. I just loved to play. From the time I knew you could have a profession as a gym teacher, that's what I wanted to do."
The salutatorian of her high school graduating class, and the valedictorian at CEU and USU, she was repeatedly asked by professors why she wanted to be a P.E. teacher "when you could do anything," she recalled. "But it was my passion. It's what I wanted to do."
In college there were many opportunities to play sports, and Tomsic took advantage.
"I played everything I could play," she said, noting there was one woman in charge of every athletic squad at CEU.
"I do feel I benefited from Title IX because I actually had an opportunity to play sports in college," she said. "I played volleyball, I swam, I did gymnastics, played volleyball, field hockey and softball. I played and loved everyone. I think I learned a lot of what I carry into my coaching."
More than the chance to compete, Tomsic believes Title IX is responsible for her accomplishments professionally.
"It's because of Title IX that I'm in the position I'm in today, and that I've been in for the past 25 years," she said. "Women athletic administrators were few and far between."
She remembers just one other, Springville's Kathy Jarvis, when she started at Grand High School. Tomsic has earned state and national recognition for her efforts as an athletic director, and she said it only makes sense that society offers the same opportunities to learn and grow through athletics to women as it does to men.
"It's been well documented that participation in sports brings all kinds of benefits, and Title IX gave women and girls the green light to have all of those experiences, without them being second-rate," she said. "Why wouldn't you want women to experience all of those benefits?"
Lori Salvo knows she's blessed.
While her older sister never got to play basketball or volleyball, she did. Not only that, she earned a college education thanks to her athletic skill.
The mother of two graduated from Davis High in 1976 and earned one of the first full-ride athletic scholarships for women at the University of Utah. The basketball and volleyball player credits her high school coach, Norma Carr, and former Davis Principal Dick Stevenson with fighting for the opportunities she enjoyed.
"I went through the years where we had to fight really hard for what we had," she said. "My older sister had to play halfcourt basketball and my other sister was a cheerleader. They didn't have sports. I think we had to fight for everything, but every year it got better. I was so grateful for each year because we had so much more."
Salvo said she isn't sure what would have happened to her had she not been offered a life in athletics.
"I think it was my God-given talent to play sports," she said. "My future rested on it. I would never have been able to go to college. My parents were divorced and they didn't have the money. I wouldn't have gone to college. I am the only one in my family who graduated from college. It gave me the opportunity to do what I love to do."
She said watching Carr and Stevenson and others fight for her and her classmates instilled a sense of responsibility in her.
"To see coaches who fought so hard for us girls, I'm going to go do the same," she said. "I'm going to give back."
She doesn't understand why anyone would want to deprive women of the opportunity to have sports in their lives.
"It was amazing," she said of her youth. "I was able to play and have a ball with everything. I just went from one sport to the next because I just loved playing so much."
She said there are still issues women have to battle and Title IX ensures they have equal footing.
"Why do the boys get prime time?" said the Davis head volleyball coach and assistant basketball coach. "I still feel that today things aren't equal."
Title IX also helped her be a part of creating a professional women's volleyball league that her daughter, Airial Salvo, played in this spring. She hopes the message girls get today is that they deserve everything their male counterparts have.
"The girls are oblivious to it," she said. "They don't realize it was an issue. I really don't think they know the half of it, and who and how the road was paved for us. They still need to be aware. They still need to be grateful, and I don't always feel like they appreciate it."
The slip of paper shocked and infuriated the young teacher and coach.
Norma Carr, who graduated from BYU in 1969 in physical education, took the paper, which told teachers that girls could participate in pep club, cheerleading and dance, but were not allowed to play interscholastic sports, to her principal at Davis High, Richard "Dick" Stevenson.
He suggested holding onto the paper until the girls were able to have their "play day," which was a one-day gymnastics tournament for which they'd been practicing for months.
But Carr wanted to fight.
She and Stevenson called the district, made their case, and the girls were allowed to hold their one-day tournament. But they really didn't have any leverage as the year was 1970 and if administrators wanted to keep girls on the sidelines, there was nothing to stop them.
Luckily, Carr and other female athletes had some allies like Stevenson who worked hard before and after Title IX to create opportunities for young women.
Carr, now athletic director at Salt Lake Community College, said every year they'd ask the Utah High School Activities Association to sanction a girls gymnastics tournament. And every year they'd be turned down.
"The biggest catalyst was around 1970 or 71, at East High and Judge, some girls were allowed to play on the boys teams during region," Carr said. "They played in the league but weren't allowed to play tennis."
Those parents began threatening lawsuits just about the same time the federal government passed Title IX.
Once the law was passed, that's when the real fight began, she said.
"The high school association came to me as the president of Division of Girls and Women's Sports (which had no ties to any official sports organization), and asked me to help them determine which sports they'd sanction," she said. "That was the most painful, ugly experience of my life. All of these men sitting around the table and they would literally say things like, 'Girls should be home cooking and cleaning,' 'If girls play sports they'll become more masculine,' 'If girls play sports, their uteruses will fall out.'
Carr's response was always the same. If sports are so good for boys, why wouldn't they be just as beneficial for girls?
"It was very confusing and very hurtful," she said. "The legislation couldn't force people to change feelings and emotions. It took years, and we're still dealing with people thinking that men lost programs because of Title IX."
Even a decade after the law passed, she said she was chewed out by male counterparts for daring to use practice facilities for women's teams.
"I had several coaches bring me to tears because, heaven forbid, I dared to use their facilities," she said. "But I have had people come around and apologize and that does mean a lot."
Carr is acknowledged as one of the most influential women in Utah sports. She was inducted into the Utah Softball Hall of Fame, the Utah Coaches of Merit Hall of Fame and the UHSSA Officials Hall of Fame. In 2007 she was named to the UHSSA "Circle of Fame." Finally in 2009 she was awarded the National Administator of the Year. She coordinated volleyball officials for the Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences and is region director of NJCAA Region 18. She is also chairperson for NJCAA Softball.
She believes the law is as necessary today as it was 40 years ago and cites decisions by local college presidents to eliminate women's programs.
"I think it would be devastating," she said. "There are some parts that aren't always good, like coed PE classes … But girls finally had an identity. Especially with budgets as tight as they are, if the law wasn't there, this would be an opportunity to get rid of some of the women's sports."
At 21, Candace Workman knows more about Title IX's protection than most women twice her age.
The Olympic hopeful began wrestling when she was 7, after her younger brother enrolled in a camp.
"I was just in this stage of trying a lot of things," she said. "I was in gymnastics, drill team, soccer, and I asked my parents if I could try wrestling. They thought, 'OK, let her get it out of her system.' But wrestling was the thing that stuck. I don't know why. I loved it ever since I started training."
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 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.
"They thought it was too taxing on women to run the full court," Williams said, laughing. "Seeing Cheryl Miller and women like her gave me a vision of what I could achieve. It would have been hard to say I wanted to be in the Olympics or a superstar basketball player if I'd never seen it. I don't know if I could have visualized that on my own."
She said the law is still vital to equal access today.
A coach in Region 10, she said last year the girls played Tuesday and Friday and on Tuesday they played at 7 p.m., while Friday they played at 5:15 p.m.
"This year, our region decided the boys always get the 7 o'clock game," she said. "I don't think that's fair. Really, we're not special enough so we have to always play at 5:15?"
The message women get is that they're less than their male counterparts, and that's not a message Williams wants her young players to heed.
Instead, she hopes they look to the successful college and professional athletes who continue to blaze trails for them and aspire to greatness as well.
"I don't think they understand how special it is to be able to watch professional women's sports, to watch women of that caliber compete," she said. "They really don't understand how lucky they are. To get to go to college for free because of sports, it's pretty amazing; it's a blessing. But I also think it's important to understand the history of why they have it."
Kim Norman went out for every single sport Grand High School offered.
"I wanted to go out for football, but they wouldn't let me," said the 47-year-old head coach of Westminster College's volleyball team. "I loved all sports."
She said she benefited directly from Title lX.
"My generation was the time when people were getting written up and sanctioned for a lack of compliance," she said. "Kendra Tomsic was my high school coach and she fought tooth and nail to get us access."
When administrators told the girls they had to use the small gym at the middle school, Tomsic battled for equal time in the high school's gymnasium.
"We were definitely, constantly fighting and speaking about it," she said. "We knew we weren't being treated fairly."
And Title lX gave them a way to fight back, a way to earn opportunities that some would deny them.
"The law is what kept administrations aware," said Norman, who spent many years coaching high school volleyball and pioneering club programs here in Utah. "They knew they couldn't go back because there would be repercussions."
As for whether or not the law has out-lived its usefulness, she said it would be interesting to see what happened in the absence of a federal mandate.
"Women's sports has now prevailed as a major part of the economy," she said. "One of the biggest consumers of athletic gear and apparel is women."
Still, she sees Title lX in a similar light as other civil rights legislation.
"They're still on the books," she said. "And there are still problems.… Women are still paid less, we still don't have good minority or women coaching numbers. I think we've got some bastions as much as we're educated that we haven't mastered."
Carol Dain's life would have included sports regardless of Title lX.
Born in Chicago and raised in the Denver area, she moved to Houston, Texas when she was 14 or 15 years old to study gymnastics with famed Romanian gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi
Her goal was to make the Olympic team, and while she was the only gymnast working with Karolyi who attended traditional high school, she said she doesn't remember if sports were offered to women because she was so focused on her own goals.
"I remember we had football," she said with a laugh. "But I was so dedicated to gymnastics that two years of my life, I can't say what else was going on."
Dain, 40, feels very fortunate to have had the opportunities she did, most of which came from her competing internationally. She was offered several college scholarships for gymnastics after she failed to make the Olympic team in 1988.
"I think I never even contemplated the benefit of Title lX because I basically had my pick of where I wanted to go," she said. "Women's gymnastics had always been a pretty stable sport. It didn't even cross my mind that I was going to school on scholarship because of Title lX. I was very fortunate and I am very grateful I was able to get my education because of gymnastics."
Dain is like the majority of women who went to college on an athletic scholarship in that she chose to work in a profession unrelated to sports. She is an assistant U.S. Attorney in Salt Lake City, but also spent several years as a police officer with the Los Angeles and West Valley City police departments.
Despite working in a non-athletic career, sports is still an important part of her life. It was skiing with in a police officer's league that brought her to Salt Lake City and lured her to the Beehive state for good.
"Athletics is the foundation for everything I've done since being a gymnast," she said.
Dain is much more familiar with the downside of Title lX — the negative impact it had on men's opportunities.
"I'm all for girls and women's equality," said Dain. "But the sad part for me is that when I really felt the impact of Title lX was when they started scraping men's sports. I was a gymnast at UCLA and I saw a very storied men's gymnastics program get wiped out."
This is a program, she points out that produced Olympic gymnasts like Peter Vidmar, Mitch Gaylord and Tim Daggett were among the men who helped the Bruins win two national titles, as well as represented the U.S. on Olympic Teams in the 90s before the program was discontinued in the mid-90s.
"That program went away because of Title lX," she said.
She saw them add women's sports, even some very obscure sports, while cutting popular and successful men's programs to meet the ratio demands of the federal law.16 comments on this story
"It was very sad," she said. "I don't know that we talked about it directly, but it was very clear that was the reason they were being cut."
Dain would like to see protection and opportunities for women without reduction in the opportunities for men. One solution, she suggests, would be to exempt football from the ratio requirements.
"Football is so radically different from every other sport," she said. "You'll never be able to equalize across the board with football in the mix. It has to be it's own program, and you could still require some of that money be used to pay for other sports."