Just as middle-aged parents look back at their high school photos in disbelief, there's often occasion to look back at government policies and wonder how such notions could have existed in the United States.
One doesn't have to reach back to ancient history to discover outdated policies. Consider:
-- As recently as 30 years ago school tax dollars were spent almost exclusively on boys' high school athletics. Girls' programs were virtually non-existent.
The 30th anniversary of the federal court ruling on girls' athletic programs was the subject of a recent essay by Miles Lord, former chief judge of the U.S. District Court and former Crosby resident. Lord was the federal judge who was petitioned by two Minnesota girls who wanted to play high school sports, tennis and cross-country running.
At that time the Minnesota State High School League only sanctioned boys' programs and refused to allow girls to compete on teams. Miles said the league's principal witness described how the female anatomy was such that girls should be diverted from athletic activity and that court-mandated separate programs for young women would lead to expenses that would force the state to eliminate all high school athletic teams.
In a nutshell, the official policy was that if you wanted your child to be allowed to play on a bona fide school athletic team, that child had better be a boy. Girls weren't allowed to play.
Today, that policy seems almost unbelievable. Most high schools and colleges offer a wide variety of athletic opportunities to young women. College athletic scholarships, a benefit that was unavailable to premier women athletes such as Billie Jean King, are now available regardless of gender.
This sea change came about because Lord ruled the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause meant that equal treatment should be afforded boys and girls in school gyms and on the playing fields. He wrote: "Minnesota high schools must spend the same amount of money on girls' athletic programs as boys' programs."
That simple ruling hardly seems revolutionary today but it opened up a world of opportunities to scores of women in the past 30 years. Lord's ruling was upheld in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually enacted by Congress as Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
Offering equal opportunities for women didn't destroy most men's sports programs. At most high schools and colleges the separate programs flourish. While men's revenue sports such as football and basketball continue to be the big moneymakers, successful women's programs have shown they can draw significant fan support as well.
The upstart University of Minnesota women's basketball team surprised everyone this year and even filled Williams Arena with enthusiastic fans when a water pipe burst in their own facility.
Like the black students who were routinely denied admission to certain state universities as recently as 40 years ago, women had to fight for their rights to school-supported teams. It's a fight that today's women athletes and their fans should remember as they enjoy women's athletics.
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