This is the one of many columns to be written by UMBC Director of Athletics Dr. Charles Brown. Dr. Brown is believed to be the longest-tenured AD in the state, with over 20 years at the helm of the Retrievers. He has been an athletic director since 1981 and has served two terms as president of the Maryland Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and one term on the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet.

Several months ago, my daughter called to tell me that my granddaughter had joined a running club called Girls on the Run through her elementary school. Katie, an 8 year old third grader, had never run before, but the program seemed popular among her friends, so she wanted to give it a try. She had an OPPORTUNITY, and she took the challenge. Since I am a former runner, my daughter knew I’d be thrilled, and she and I hoped that Katie would stick to it.

According to its website, Girls on the Run is a life-changing experiential learning program for girls 8 to 13 years old. The program combines training for a 3.1 mile running event with self-esteem enhancing and uplifting workouts. The goals of the program are to encourage positive emotional, social, mental and physical development. The program EMPOWERS girls at an early age in order to prevent at-risk activities in the future, including substance/alcohol abuse, eating disorders, early onset of sexual activity, sedentary life style, depression, suicide attempts and confrontations with the juvenile justice system.

Katie was very fortunate to be a part of such a program. She reported to her mom that the after-school program was fun, and she was making new friends. My daughter told me that the big day for the culminating 5K run was May 23 at 7:30 a.m. on the George Mason University campus in Northern Virginia a half hour from their home. I had to see the event, of course, so grandpa slept over the night before, and we all drove to the campus and arrived at 6:30 a.m. on a very rainy day.

Much to my surprise—shock--there were nearly 3,000 girls running in the 5K run. The pre-race hype, including speeches and music, team cheers, face painting and last minute advice from coaches and parents was not to be diminished by the constant downpour. Katie ran the entire race with a friend, never stopping, and competed well for her first experience with distance running. She and our family were euphoric after the event. What an amazingly positive experience for an 8 year old girl.

What I found out afterwards was that this race was repeated all over the United States with thousands upon thousands of girls given the OPPORTUNITY for this very positive experience through the volunteer efforts of the Girls on the Run program. Girls and women now compete in an amazing array of activities ranging from traditional sports such as volleyball, soccer, basketball and track & field to the more exotic sports such as half pipe, NASCAR, cliff diving and mountain biking. No sport is taboo for the females. After all, freestyle wrestling for women is now an Olympic sport! Who would have thunk? Millions of females participate in youth programs, P.E. classes, high school and college varsity and J.V. teams and even senior programs with regularity. The even better news is that their programs are still growing.

How did all this come about? When I was growing up in my hometown of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, N.Y. in the 1950s and 1960s, girls and women played virtually no part in the sports world except as cheerleaders and spectators. The tumultuous 1960s produced many social changes, among which was the women’s liberation movement. In 1963, Betty Freidan’s book entitled “The Feminine Mystique” raised many issues related to how girls were raised and what they could or could not do, and it started the dialogue toward total equality for women. In the 50s, women became teachers and men became lawyers; women became nurses and men became doctors; girls watched while the boys played, etc. The examples are too numerous to mention. Throughout the years following Ms. Friedan’s book, great advances occurred in our society that helped move forward greater OPPORTUNITIES for girls and women in the world of sport. None, however, have had a greater effect than Title IX legislation, enacted in 1972.

So what is Title IX?

Title IX is a part of Federal law that was enacted on June 23, 1972, is part of the Education Amendments of 1972, and is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. It states that “no person in the United States 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 receiving Federal financial assistance.” The jurisdiction of this law requires the presence of three elements: an education program, federal financial aid, and allegations of sex discrimination. This law applies to public and private schools, athletic leagues, and recreation programs. Title IX affects all educational programs, not just sports programs.

Interpretation of the law and its implementation determine how Title IX is enforced. If we have a law, but it has no “bite”, than not much can change. The Civil Right Restoration Act of 1987 corrected any misinterpretations and application of the law and solidified Congress’ intent to cover all phases of education including college and high school athletics and physical education. Compliance with the intent of the law finally had arrived as the “teeth” of the law took funds away from schools whose programs did not meet the standards of opportunity, fairness, proportionality, etc.

The results are astounding. The growth of girls’ and women’s sports has mushroomed. Currently, the 5 most popular sports for girls and women are basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross country, and softball with more than 90% of all schools providing opportunities in these programs. Budgets, facilities, coaching staff, schedules, and conferences have all expanded at an exponential rate. Are our male and female programs equal? Not yet, but we’re moving very fast in the right direction, and our young girls and women have had great success in the past 25 years. Professional women’s tennis and golf lead the way. The WNBA, professional leagues in women’s soccer and softball have all developed, and although they struggle for fans and media exposure, so did the NBA, MLB, and the NFL in their formative years. During this past Olympic games from China—USA dominance in many women’s sports brought medals home in volleyball, basketball, beach volleyball, softball, gymnastics, swimming, track & field, tennis, and even wrestling. We’ve become one of the dominant forces in international sports for women.

Here are several of the milestone events that helped shape the path for younger generations to come:

  1. Billy Jean King-victory over former Wimbledon champion, Bobby Riggs in tennis on national TV in the sold out Houston Astrodome.
  2. Joan Benoit-winning the first ever Olympic marathon—LA-1984 Olympic games.
  3. Nadia Comaneci-perfect “10” was a first as she became an instant Olympic legend.
  4. Annika Sorenstam-scored 71 in Dallas several years ago on the MEN’S PGA tour.
  5. Danika Patrick-became a regular race car driver on the NASCAR circuit-a sport dominated by men.
  6. Pat Summitt-University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach whose total wins have surpassed all coaches, including Dean Smith, and she is still going strong.
  7. Brandy Chastain-Sports Illustrated “shirtless” cover picture as the USA won its 2nd Soccer World Cup before a packed Rose Bowl 100,000 person stadium and with billions watching all over the world.

Oh, there’s been some negatives to Title IX—not enough quality coaches, a shortage of funding, a scarcity of fields, and a lack of quality media coverage for women’s and girls’ sports events. Elimination of men’s sports teams (i.e., wrestling, swimming, baseball, etc.) is often alleged to be caused by Title IX legislation. Careful analysis will clearly point out that football has been the “runaway train” of college sports and the real culprit. After all, why do big time Division I universities need 85 full football scholarships annually?

Hundreds of thousands of girls like Katie now have the OPPORTUNITY to experience all the positive effects of sports participation—effects that young boys have experienced for so many years. While the size, speed, and strength of males and females will never be equal in athletics, certainly females are improving at a much faster pace than their male counterparts.

You go girls!