1972: The year that changed everything for female athletes. The year that saw one of the biggest impacts in the futures of female athletes: the signing of Title IX.
In brief, Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. This discrimination from an institution could be in the form of funding, promotion, participation, scholarships, opportunities, etc. This was signed into law by Richard Nixon in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Now, here we are, fifty years later, with a legacy to look back on and a movement to continue.
The progression of female athletics has advanced considerably with the help of Title IX, but the growth is not done yet. The protection that it provides to females from the discrimination on the basis of sex means that the amount of promotion, funding, or opportunities provided to them are no longer based on the random value that the public deems they are worthy of.
*It is important to note that title IX protects both genders and the discrimination based on sex does occur for both genders, and it is important for both men and women to know their rights under this rule.*
As June 2022 saw the celebration of 50 years of Title IX, I took some time to sit down with two very knowledgeable coaches of women’s athletics to discuss the impact and growth they have personally witnessed with the Title IX rule.
Coach Robyn Scherr-Wells, 42 years old, is the current head women’s basketball coach at the University of Evansville. She is entering her second year at UE, with sixteen years of experience of coaching at the college level behind her.
Coach Mat Mundell, 42 years old, is the current head women’s softball coach at the University of Evansville and is entering his ninth season with the Aces. His twenty years of coaching at the college level and thirteen years of coaching women’s softball at the college level has seen the ups and downs of the different battles of college athletics.
When it comes to coaching a group of young female athletes at the college age, their coaches are arguably their biggest influence and means for guidance as each one goes from a freshman at eighteen years old, to graduating as an adult into the world. When asked about her most important job as a coach of young female athletes, Coach Robyn said that she strives to help them grow in their own leadership, to protect their mental health, to care for them in their time here, and to push them to find the best version of themselves, on and off the court.
“Sometimes the pushing is uncomfortable for them, but when we’re uncomfortable is where we grow,”
Coach Robyn stated this as she acknowledged the responsibility that has been entrusted to her to coach this team of women.
This guidance, protection, encouragement, and push that comes from a head coach comes in many formats and areas. As we are talking about the impact and growth of Title IX as it pertains to female athletics, we look at the influence that the coaches can have on their athletes to inspire and lead them by example.
When asked about times in which he has fought for his team and led by example by speaking up for their rights under Title IX, Coach Mat Mundell recalled to me that in his twenty years of coaching at the college level, he has seen different instances where there was unfair treatment to female athletics. He has always done his best to speak up and call it out. For Coach Mundell, being a champion for the underdog or underrepresented is something that he strives to do for his athletes, but he also encourages them to be their own advocates as well.
“If the players are involved, I think that’s when things happen too. Universities take notice when it is pointed out by athletes rather than just the coaches, because all coaches are going to fight for their programs, but when the players or student-athletes become more aware of those things, I think that is when real change can happen,”
Coach Mundell stated.
Coach Robyn made a note that speaking up for her athletes when she sees something that breaks Title IX is an important battle for a coach to fight, but it is a battle that can be fought in many different ways. For her, fighting strategically and with a smile on her face is how she feels she has been called to fight for and inspire her athletes. Inspiring these athletes and ensuring that they know where things have come from and where they are now is very important to Coach Robyn.
“Women need to know whose shoulders they are standing on. We are standing on the shoulders of some unbelievably forward-thinking, tough women who have gotten us the opportunities that we have today,”
For female athletes, having that deep understanding of the opportunities and options of those who came before you is crucial, not only to gain perspective of how important Title IX is, but also to inspire females to be aware of and uphold their rights underneath it.
Coach Mundell commented that at the beginning of the season, he brings in a Title IX officer to talk to the women’s softball team about their rights in an effort to educate them and inspire them to keep the movement going.
Advocating for his athletes is very important to Coach Mundell, but he also values educating them and building them up to know their rights and be their own advocates. “I think the more educated the athletes can be, the more that they are going to be able to take advantage of Title IX and get the things that they deserve,” he explains.
Through their efforts, Coach Mundell and Coach Robyn have exemplified to their athletes what it takes to be a great leader and a vocal advocate. Much like these coaches, I think it is every head coaches’ goal to see their athletes grow into leaders and inspirer’s of their own, being their own voice and fighting their own fights.
After getting some great insight from both coaches, I decided to ask Coach Robyn one last question that I believe to be the most important when it comes to spreading awareness and inspiring her own athletes: What is one piece of advice you would like to give your young athletes when it comes to the movement of Title IX?
Coach Robyn quickly responded saying,
“It is important to know where we have come from and know the history of this, and it is important to keep fighting. That fight can look different for each individual, but it is important for all of us to continue to give back to this.”
As the year 2022 has seen the celebration of 50 years of Title IX, we thank coaches like Robyn Scherr-Wells and Mat Mundell for contributing to the positive movement of the rights of female athletes, and for inspiring their peers to do the same.