By Michael Pineda
It was just over 50 years ago Title IX became law and changed the face and direction of women’s athletics.
The federal civil rights law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
The impact of that ruling continues to be felt today. Women’s athletics continues to grow in popularity as more opportunities have been provided to aspiring young athletes.
Title IX has had a significant impact, with increased participation and opportunities in both the high school and college level, Yukon businesswoman and council member Donna Yanda said.
“The amazing recognition, opportunities and growth have allowed for increased scholarships and often times careers,” she said.
Yanda was among the first to begin to see change at the collegiate level, starring for the Oklahoma State basketball team in the 1970s. She holds the school record for points in a game with 51 against Tulsa.
She also is listed in the record books for rebounds in a game – 20 – and listed among career leaders for points in the program. Given her experience in athletics, the changes that have taken place are not lost on her.
“With the recognition and development in women’s athletics, there have been tremendous improvements and upgrades in facilities and services for women overall, including academically, travel, etc.,” she said.
EARLY OKLAHOMA STRUGGLES
Cherie Myers also experienced the impact of Title IX, both in the state as a high school player and coach, in addition to her time as an athlete at North Texas State University. During a storied career, Myers won state titles at Kingfisher and Okarche and posted an 862-207 record.
“I graduated from high school in 1975, played basketball at Kingfisher, Fairview in junior high and then I moved to Kingfisher,” she said. “I played college ball at Northern Junior College and then North Texas State.
“When I was in high school and I was looking to go play college basketball, what you wanted to do was go play junior college in Oklahoma. It was under the NJCAA, and you got scholarships there, which was why I went to Northern in Tonkawa and played. And then, you pretty much had to go out of state because OU and OSU, those people didn’t have scholarships if you wanted to play on a scholarship.
“What I did was went to Texas. At that time, it was under AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics). We played under that league. By the time, after I graduated, they started going into the NCAA.”
Based on her experience playing basketball in Texas, Myers felt Oklahoma was not keeping up in women’s athletics. At North Texas, the women played in the same facilities and had the same opportunities for travel as male players and received per diems.
“At OU and OSU, I had friends that played and walked on,” Myers said. “Of course, they went through the thing at OU where they were going to cancel the program at the time.”
PERSONAL HOOPS EXPERIENCE
Regarding growing up and playing school ball, Myers said she was blessed to play both in Fairview and Kingfisher, where basketball was a big deal. At that time, Oklahoma played 6-on-6, which was basically 3-on-3 with guards and forwards not allowed to cross the half-court line. It was not until the early 1990s that 5-on-5 became the norm.
“My coach was Leo Kennedy (Northern Oklahoma), and he was a great guy, a great coach,” Myers said. “When he came to recruit us, he said, ‘Your biggest problem is the first time you scrimmage or play, you won’t go across half-court.’ We laughed because we thought he was crazy.”
Of course, the first time the teams scrimmaged, Myers recalled she didn’t cross half-court.
Despite playing 6-on-6, Myers said she said she was prepared to play the full-court game thanks to her coach at Kingfisher, Joe Crabb. Myers learned fundamentals, played forward and transitioned to point guard in junior college.
She did feel that moving to 5-on-5 hurt participation as some girls were left behind.
“People thought they were hurting their kids by not playing 5-on-5 as far as recruiting,” Myers said. “To me, that wasn’t true. They were going to find you if you could play. The 6-on-6 game allowed me as a coach and as a player to see kids or coach kids that maybe had no athletic ability to play the 5-on-5 game.
“They could go in and be a defensive specialist and play; they could be very successful and have a great high school career, make All-State and all these things and then go on with their life. As a coach, I saw kids quit early because they couldn’t compete in the 5-on-5 athletic part of it.”
TITLE IX REVIVES WRESTLING
Yukon Athletic Director Brian Hinson has his own perspective on Title IX. A wrestler from Lawton Ike, Hinson competed at the college level for the University of Missouri. He embarked on a career in administration where he has seen the benefits of Title IX.
“There are important individuals that I have respected over the years, dating back to Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee,” he said. “The things that she was able to do and change the culture of women’s basketball – she’s arguably one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time at any level, whether it is men or women’s sports. She did a lot of things for women’s athletics, so I have a ton of respect for her.”
Hinson also named Kara Lawson at Duke University. He also noted the changes that are taking place in collegiate wrestling as women have found a place in the sport.
“Right now, they are trying to expand the wrestling programs at the Division 1 level for women’s wrestling,” he said. “I think that is very important. Iowa made a big statement when they hired Clarissa Chun as its head coach. I think it’s important, especially for the sport of wrestling. It feels like a couple of years back, we were about to lose the sport of wrestling in the Olympics.
“I feel that women’s sports help men’s sports continue to grow, especially in the sport of wrestling. You can see in Oklahoma and other states around us. When they started sanctioning girls wrestling, the interest kind of peaked back up, the crowd sizes started getting bigger. More wrestlers started coming out for whatever reason. But I think women’s wrestling definitely helped pave the way for a resurgence of wrestling.”
LIFE WITHOUT TITLE IX
The world of athletics has changed due to Title IX to the point it is unimaginable where women would be without it. The door to have equal access to athletic opportunities was forced open like other rights, such as voting.
“I think you had to have it,” Myers said. “Because, I just think, in a lot of the schools, it (athletics) was put in as part of a PE program or part of an intramural program or things like that. And it’s sad but in my opinion, you see a lot of things. Unfortunately, you have to force the hand legally before somebody will open up and look at it and get it where it needs to be.
“I think it was definitely necessary. They put in their time and energy, and I think it needs to be fair, but I also think there are two sides to the issue. You look at the money it brings in. Sometimes, you are hurting a smaller college with what they can provide and can’t provide for their athletes. It’s one of those things unfortunately, the way society was, you have to force their hand. It’s no different from the women’s right to vote and those sorts of things.”
Hinson said Title IX had multiple impacts as it worked toward leveling the field for not only women but providing opportunities for people of color.
“They were able to break barriers,” he said. “And I would like to say I may not be in this position if some of those barriers might not have been broken. Because you look at history, women have had a hard time achieving things but also people of color also had a hard time.
“Some of those barriers were broken because of civil rights and the rights given to minorities, but also some barriers were broken because of things like Title IX. It helped both parties if you will.”
STILL WORK TO BE DONE
Strides have been made under Title IX but by no means is work done. During the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in 2021, one athlete posted pictures comparing the disparity between women’s
and men’s workout equipment. Myers said she has had athletes at small schools who are responsible for fundraising, something that did not happen when she was at North Texas State.
Meanwhile, the latest television ratings indicate popularity is rising in women’s athletics. The NCAA basketball tournament had its highest ratings in two decades. Most recently, the Women’s College World Series had higher ratings than their men counterparts. Yanda said Title IX has brought women to the forefront. Although it remains a work in progress, it has certainly changed the game for women.
“Without Title IX it would be a disgrace to all the women athletes who have competed on all levels and to those tremendous athletes who have gone on to compete at the college and professional level,” she said. “If not for Title IX, our society would have missed out on some of the greatest talent to ever compete.”