How we worked to establish intercollegiate women’s athletics in Kansas before Title IX
The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Marlene Mawson is Emeritus Professor of Physical Education at the University of Kansas. His 2020 memoirs, Mawson’s Mission: To Launch Intercollegiate Women’s Track And Field At The University Of Kansas, was selected as Kansas’ Outstanding Book for 2021.
Imagine what women’s athletic competition looked like when your grandmother was in college over 60 years ago. Young women could not therefore know what intercollegiate women’s athletics would become for their daughters and granddaughters.
Colleges didn’t offer women’s athletics until 1968, and most people don’t know how many obstacles had to be overcome before college women’s athletics could begin across the country that year.
Sixty years ago, college women only played sports within the city walls or once a season when invited to a sports day. In rural areas of the country, some high schools have offered girls the opportunity to compete against other women’s sports teams in the same conference roster as the boys’ teams. My high school sponsored women’s basketball and softball in Archie, Missouri, and I played on both teams. But when I entered college in 1958, I was disappointed to learn that there were no varsity athletics teams for women at the University of Central Missouri, or elsewhere.
In 1962, the United States Olympic Development Committee, in coordination with the National Association of Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS), inaugurated a series of five National Olympic Institutes for Women’s Sports organized over a decade, to improve the prospects for US women’s teams to succeed in Olympic competition.
These institutes aimed to teach 100 selected women, two per state, how to train a specific sport – because the women had no experience in playing or training competitively in schools. These women were challenged to return to their respective states and organize workshops to teach other women in high schools and colleges how to train the sport.
The Sports Institute for 1963 was in athletics and gymnastics; for 1965, it is water sports; winter sports were in January 1966, basketball and power volleyball in December 1966; and in 1969 it was advanced basketball and refereeing sports. I had the privilege of being selected by Missouri in 1966 and by Kansas in 1969 as a participant in each of the basketball institutes.
The NAGWS announced in the spring of 1968 that the National Women’s Interuniversity Sports Championships would begin in 1969. In the fall of 1968, colleges across the country appointed Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Directors who began organizing women’s teams for their institutions.
Because NAGWS members were university professors, physical education departments, rather than athletics departments, sponsored women’s sports competitions. I was hired in 1968 at the University of Kansas as a full-time physical education instructor, with the added responsibility of initiating the women’s track program and coaching.
Basketball, field hockey, volleyball, softball, gymnastics and swimming were the first sports teams organized and I coached four of them. Kansas universities and colleges competed in seasonal competitions within the state, governed by the new Association for Kansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports.
With a total budget of only $ 2,000 for the six women’s track and field teams, KU players in the early years shared uniforms with other team sports, borrowed sports equipment from the teaching program. , took their own lunches when traveling, and carpooled in our own cars for away games. Our training and home games were scheduled on Robinson’s courts and pitches as Allen Fieldhouse was reserved for men.
KU applied for and hosted 28 teams at the Second National Volleyball Championships at the Robinson Gymnasium in February 1971. A month later, the KU Women’s Basketball Team qualified for the Third National Championship. invitational basketball at Western North Carolina University. I ran the volleyball championships and coached the KU basketball team in North Carolina.
In November 1972, the Association for Athletics for Women (AIAW) was formed at a national conference held in Overland Park. Earlier in June, the Education Amendments Act 1972 was passed by Congress, requiring any educational institution receiving federal funding to demonstrate adherence to the act. The most important provision of the law was Title IX, requiring educational institutions to provide equal opportunities in school activities to all students, regardless of their gender, including athletics.
The following summer, Title IX compliance regulations were published, providing women’s athletics with the legal basis for equality in sport between men and women – but allowing five years before compliance was required. Throughout the 1970s, the NCAA and AIAW vied for efforts to offer national championships in women’s sports. In 1978, Title IX required all universities receiving federal funds to comply with Title IX.
KU female athletes persevered and competed successfully before the legal threat of Title IX and the NCAA takeover, building the legacy that serves as the foundation for the opportunities that female athletes enjoy in the 21st century. From this story, it is evident that contemporary athletes have advantages of athletic competition unintended by their grandmothers.
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