Athletes and coaches are reflecting on the impact of Title IX federal civil rights law this week.
Former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and former Congresswoman Patsy Mink authored the legislation in 1972. It requires any school or education program receiving federal funding to provide equal opportunities to men and women.
Bayh died of pneumonia Thursday. He was 91.
“With the passing of (Bayh), I think it’s important to recognize everything that he’s done for Indiana and specifically with Title IX and how that’s really shaped and changed a lot of women’s lives,” Kelly Komara said.
Komara is the associate head coach of Vanderbilt women’s basketball. She's a Lake Central and Purdue graduate and was Miss Basketball in 1998. She was drafted in the WNBA, and played in the National Women’s Basketball League and in Europe.
Komara is one of several prominent area women’s basketball figures who had Bayh on their minds this week.
“My high school and college experience would be drastically different without Title IX,” E.C. Central Athletic Director Monica Maxwell said. “I was afforded an opportunity to go to college on a full athletic scholarship. I had the same opportunities as my male counterparts as it relates to travel, facilities, game and practice times, academic resources, etc. None of this would have been possible without the inception of Title IX.”
Former Portage and Valparaiso head coach and current Marquette Catholic girls basketball assistant coach Renee’ Turpa lived through the Title IX transition. In middle school, Turpa played a game that barely resembled basketball with six players per side, two of whom designated for offense only and two for defense only.
“I think it was the archaic idea that (full-court, five on five basketball) was too strenuous for women,” Turpa said. “The other four people were standing at half court chatting waiting for the game to come back to their side.”
Turpa, an assistant director of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, was a sophomore at Valparaiso High School when Title IX became law. She remembers moving from the Girls Athletic Association to the IHSAA, from loosely-organized Saturday “play days” to regular-season schedules.
But change wasn’t instantaneous. Turpa had to try out with 70 other women and buy her own uniform during her freshman season at Ball State. By the time she left Muncie, she was a full scholarship athlete.
“It’s a night and day difference (from today). I also paid for my own college (for three years),” Turpa said. “I truly lived Title IX. I couldn’t have come along at a better time.”
Maxwell was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech 25 years later in 1997 when the WNBA started play.
“It was the first time I knew I would have a real opportunity to play professional basketball on U.S. soil,” she said. “And it's all a testament to the trailblazers and authors of the Title IX movement.”
Maxwell played four seasons in the WNBA with the Washington Mystics and Indiana Fever.
“It’s the opportunity that I had to play at every level, not just the opportunity I had to play young but to play in high school, something that my mom didn’t have the opportunity to do,” Komara said. “I had an opportunity to go play on scholarship to a Division I school that my mom didn’t have an opportunity to do. I had an opportunity to play professionally, both in the states and abroad. Those opportunities weren’t available to women even as early as my mother’s generation.”
Komara hopes the same sort of leap can be made for the future.
“There’s a long way to go for my daughter (Kennedy). You look at three generations of my mom and how Title IX affected her, how it gave me an opportunity and what it’s going to do for my 3-year-old daughter who is one day going to have opportunities even more than I had,” Komara said. “Title IX has really been something that has affected my entire family from my grandmother, my mother all the way down to my daughter.”
Lorrie Woycik was the Valparaiso High School girls basketball coach when Title IX was implemented. She was head coach for two seasons and assistant for eight more. She's also been been working with Special Olympics since 1970.
"Certainly (girls teams) were not taken as seriously (before Title IX). It was just nice programs for girls that liked sports," Woycik said. "Gym time was just after whatever the boys teams wanted, the girls could choose what they wanted. It never quite equated."
Woycik played basketball, softball and volleyball at Valparaiso University from 1948 until 1952 and is a member of the Crusaders sports hall of fame. She said the progress made in the last 40 years created a better world for modern athletes.
"Many of these kids today, they came into the program when girls have a basketball team, too, and girls have a volleyball team, too, and swimming," Woycik said. "Even awards banquets, just minor things like that that nobody really pays attention to. It didn't used to be there. How cool it is for a young lady to be at an awards banquet and be called up as the outstanding player or most-improved player."
Turpa said she’s never had a conversation about Title IX or what girls sports were once like with players at Marquette Catholic, Portage or Valparaiso. But she has heard from some of them when they take a women in sports class at Valparaiso University. The class asks students to interview an athlete from Turpa's era.
“Girls playing sports today need to be aware of and understand the history of Title IX. National Girls and Women in Sports Day (held during the first week of February annually) is always a great reminder to all of us the sacrifices that were made on our behalf,” Maxwell said. “It's sometimes easy to forget that it hasn't always been this way and it's the responsibility of those of us who have come before them to educate our young athletes.”
Neither Komara nor Maxwell ever felt like their teams were less of a priority than men’s sports.
Maxwell’s E.C. Central Cardinals were ranked No. 1 in the country in 1995. Komara’s Indians were ranked No. 1 in the nation when she was a freshman in 1994.
“I was fortunate to play on really good teams. Lake Central, when we played in the 90s, was a powerhouse in not just the Region but in the country. When you play on a team that’s nationally-recognized and nationally-known, you’re automatically going to get some status that goes with that,” Komara said. “We never felt as if we were lesser than any other team or any other program at Lake Central.”
Winning continued in college for both. Maxwell went to two Final Fours with Louisiana Tech. Komara won a national championship with Purdue her freshman year.
“On the professional ranks things are different, especially when you go overseas. Women’s sports are nowhere near what they are for (men’s),” Komara said. “I had a broad perspective on it in Indiana, at Lake Central, at Purdue and then to go on and see how women are treated in other countries. Title IX in our country has done so much for us and it really made you thankful and appreciative for those that fought for those rights.”
Both Komara and Maxwell said the next step toward a level playing field is to even the gender gap in compensation and circumstance. Turpa said both high schools and colleges still tend to give the benefit of the doubt to a younger male coach that they may not afford a younger female coach.
“It's extremely unfortunate what is happening in the WNBA, professional tennis and professional soccer as it relates to equal pay,” Maxwell said. “My perspective as one of the few minority, female athletic administrators in the state is that I wish we had more opportunities to enter the field of athletic administration.”
All agreed, though, that Birch Bayh’s Title IX was a great leap for civil rights.