Title IX showed women had game
40th anniversary of landmark law to be celebrated
When Westford Academy lacrosse coach Julie Devlin Olivier was a freshman entering Boston College in 1979, she sent the lacrosse coach a note alerting him of her arrival in Chestnut Hill and telling him she’d like to play.
Olivier went on to play both lacrosse and field hockey for BC, adding her name to the list of the first generation of female athletes to play under the new guidelines stipulated by Title IX of the Education Amendments.
“I was actually at the forefront of athletics for girls at Boston College,’’ Olivier said. “But I didn’t realize it until recently.’’
Passed on June 23, 1972, Title IX provides females with equal opportunities in athletics. It says that, “No person in the United State 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.’’
Since 1972, female participation in sports and the availability of sports for girls has increased dramatically. In the 2010-11 school year, 95,872 girls participated in 18 sports regulated by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the highest total in state history.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. The MIAA will celebrate the landmark ruling tomorrow at its annual Massachusetts Celebration of Girls and Women in Sports Day at Faneuil Hall. The theme of this year’s event is “Title IX at 40, In It For The Long Run.’’
The event will feature a keynote address by Kristine Lilly, who played in three Olympics and five World Cups as a member of the United States women’s national soccer team between 1991 and 2007.
For Lilly and Denise LeCompte, mother of Andover High School basketball player Nicole Boudreau, the opportunity to participate in athletics was not always available. LeCompte was 15 when Title IX was passed, already well into high school. She remembers there being very few opportunities for her to play organized sports while growing up.
“I have three brothers and myself so I was a tomboy. I played every sport they played, but they weren’t available to me,’’ LeCompte said. “Most of the things girls could do were field hockey or cheering. There were very few organized sports for women.’’
The growth Title IX created in women’s sports at the high school and college levels has trickled down to community and youth organizations as well.
Boudreau began playing basketball in a church league and then moved on to an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, all before reaching high school. Now, she’s a standout player at Andover, winning the last two Division 1 state championships and signing on to continue her basketball career at Boston College next fall.
“My mom always used to teach me about [Title IX],’’ Boudreau said. “I know I am really passionate about basketball, so I can’t imagine not being able to do what I am passionate about.’’
Even with the opportunities Title IX has provided, there are still lingering issues. The Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment, which provides for equality based on sex, takes legal precedent over Title IX and some believe it has been used to hurt girls’ sports. Under the state’s amendment, a school has to provide the same opportunities for boys and girls, which means boys are allowed to play on girls’ teams if the same sport isn’t offered for boys.
“What happens is they [Title IX and ERA] are both defined as equal. If you don’t allow the boys to swim on the girls’ swim team, then it is viewed as discrimination,’’ said Marianne Jarema, field hockey coach at Reading Memorial High School. “Because the boys have equal opportunities in number but maybe not the exact same sport. We are really running into some huge controversies.’’
Massachusetts has seen boys playing on girls’ field hockey teams and boys swimming on girls’ swim teams, including last fall when a boy broke the girls’ South Sectional swim record in the 50 freestyle. Jarema, who has been coaching since before Title IX, has seen firsthand the effects of these developments on opportunities for girls.
“Right now we are hitting an area of concern, with boys coming on to girls’ teams and Title IX was made to give the girls equal opportunity,’’ Jarema said. “Now we are getting boys playing girls sports and boys are displacing girls.’’
Still, Title IX has been instrumental in the growth of women’s sports. For the Murphy family, it’s easy to see the expansion of opportunities throughout the generations.
Faith Fiore, grandmother of Duxbury hockey player Hannah Murphy, didn’t have the opportunity to play sports growing up in the 1940s and ’50s. Her daughter Faith could only play softball through the Catholic Youth Organization in Hyde Park. But two generations later and 40 years after Title IX, Hannah is a three-sport athlete, playing field hockey and ice hockey as well as lacrosse.
“I think it’s wonderful for Hannah - for any girls - because before, everything was ‘No, you can’t do it,’ ’’ said Fiore. “The opportunities are there for everyone. I don’t care who you are or what you are. If you don’t take advantage, you’re the loser.’’