When the former U.S. Senator was in law school, women were rarely admitted to the bar.
“There was one woman in my class,” said Bayh, now 84, from his home in Indiana.
He wanted to do something about that, and when he was in office he did. Bayh, a Democrat, introduced and sponsored the legislation that was passed 40 years ago today guaranteeing women the right to equal opportunity in athletics and education. It’s what is known as Title IX today.
Bayh’s intention was to get women into a court of law, but he also helped them get on to the basketball court, the volleyball court, the softball diamond and the soccer field.
“To be honest, sports weren’t on my mind. I was concerned about educational opportunity for women,” Bayh said.
More than 3 million women participated in high school sports during the 2010-11 school year. Back in 1972, before Title IX was implemented, that number was 295,000.
“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of young women who have the opportunity to play athletics in high school and at universities,” Bayh said. “We’re treating young women the same as young men. That’s what Title IX ensures.”
Faith Christian Athletics Director Betty Palmer sees the obvious impact Title IX legislation has had on all athletic activities.
“It (Title IX) certainly has had an impact across the board — take Calhoun County, for example. You’ve got state champions in volleyball, basketball and softball,” Palmer said. “So, there’s opportunity for girls and boys. Calhoun County also has champions in boys’ sports too.”
Saks star athlete and member of the state champion softball team Taylor West has heard about Title IX but isn’t too familiar with it. She said it can be frustrating to see more attention go to the football team or male athletes, but she’s not complaining either.
“We still get way more than we used to,” West said.
West said she’s talked to some women who were only able to play whatever males didn’t get.
When asked what the opportunity to play sports has meant for her, West replied, “It means a lot because that’s basically my life. It makes me work harder at school, too.”
According to the NCAA, athletics are beneficial to women beyond the playing field.
Female athletes have higher levels of self-esteem, a lower incidence of depression and a more positive body image compared to non-athletes. Also, young women who play sports are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher grades and score higher on standardized tests than non-athletes.
Sandy Hunter is a local pioneer in women’s sports. She was essential in getting the AHSAA state softball tournament off the ground in 1986. Hunter and Satsuma High School softball coach Patricia Hicks began sending out petitions in 1985, and the following calendar year the first tournament was hosted in Gadsden. As it happened, Hunter won the Class 1A-3A title with Pleasant Valley High School, while Hicks won the 4A-6A title with Satsuma.
When she was in high school, the only girls’ sports team was track, which she participated in during her junior and senior year.
Hunter said she didn’t see changes from Title IX until she was in college at Jacksonville State University. At that time, coaches would post flyers around campus to announce tryouts for female athletic teams. She saw the flyers for both basketball and volleyball, tried out and played both sports. Eventually, she earned an athletic scholarship.
“I pretty much grew up at the ball field. I felt very welcome and encouraged,” Hunter said. “Everything was very positive for me. You were accepted. You just played ball.”
Following her career as a female athlete, Hunter went on to become one of the most successful coaches in Alabama High School Athletics history, male or female. She won seven state titles in softball alone and helped more than 40 of her players earn athletic scholarships.
“Most of my kids at Pleasant Valley, they were good students,” Hunter said. “I preached to them the importance of academics. Academics come first and athletics come second.”
Hunter never let her gender become an obstacle but feels fortunate to have been at a supportive school like Pleasant Valley.
“It’s just a personality thing, not a gender thing. I’m just for being fair,” Hunter said. “I would ask for whatever I needed. When I was at Pleasant Valley, it was the place to be for girls sports.”
Similarly, Palmer never felt a lack of opportunity because of her gender.
Rather, because of Title IX legislation, she has seen many avenues open up.
“I grew up right at the beginning of it. I was in junior high school when it came around,” Palmer said. “As a result, I had great opportunities in high school and college.”