Thank You Title IX, Says Mom of IV Daughters

by Danielle Harris

My husband and I drive up to a tennis tournament and park among the brand-new Volvos and Lexuses. Four girls tumble out of our 2002 Toyota Sienna, along with other girly flotsam and jetsam such as hairbands, fashion magazines and drawings of horses and fairies with flowing hair. As we watch our daughters play, we hobnob with people with investment portfolios while we’re hoping the last check we wrote won’t bounce. Between matches, we chat with people who have second homes and we’re hoping to make rent. And we go out to lunch with people who complain about the room service at their expensive hotels while we’re wondering whether we can purchase another pair of tennis shoes because the car broke down this month.

We live in rural Central Oregon, one of the most financially depressed areas of Oregon, and our income consists of what my husband makes as a private-school teacher — a little over half of what he would make as a public school teacher — and what I can supplement in substitute teaching, tutoring and freelance writing. College education choices for our daughters would seem to be limited to the local junior college, simultaneously working and paying as they go. Yet our daughter is applying to expensive private schools. Much of the reason is because of Title IX.

Title IX is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act that states:

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 or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

While the wording does not mention the word athletics, its implementation has greatly affected women’s athletics and opportunities for girls has increased. My mother, a talented athlete, was limited to head cheerleader and captain of the tennis team in high school. There weren’t any other options.

Fewer than 30,000 women participated in college sports. Athletic scholarships for women were nonexistent. Title IX passed in 1972, a year before I was born. I benefited by playing soccer, volleyball, basketball, track and softball, sports added because of Title IX implementation. Eventually, soccer and volleyball helped to pay my college bills. In 2010–2011, the number of women athletes had grown sixfold, exceeding 190,000. Women received 48% of the total athletic scholarship dollars at Division I schools. (Stats provided by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.)

For our daughters, athletics will probably help finance college in a greater proportion than it did for me. Our oldest daughter, Elsa, has been playing tennis since she was five. I signed her up for a community-based tennis program with the simple intention of getting out of the house. Within the first week of practice, the high school tennis coach who ran the program tracked me down and convinced me she had potential. He cited Title IX as basis for having hope in gaining a scholarship. I didn’t take the discussion too seriously, but continued to bring Elsa to practices faithfully as long as Elsa seemed to enjoy herself. When she got into high school, with continual encouragement from her high school coach, playing collegiate tennis became her focus. She needed more coaching than her high school coach could offer, but personal coaching is expensive. How would we finance such a need?

The answer again came through her high school coach, who had created a non-profit fund for all tennis players who wished to improve their game. Each summer, I assisted him in running two fund-raising tennis tournaments to fill the coffers. Each year, Elsa, among others, improved her game through personal coaching and playing tournaments, all paid for by the non-profit organization.

Still, the expense of gas and time had to be covered by us, which was a considerable sacrifice: driving 45 minutes away several times a week for personalized coaching and 2 ½ hours to tournaments which are usually held in Portland, Oregon. Would all this effort end in a scholarship? Was Elsa missing out on a free and easy childhood for a pipe dream? Would the investment pay out?

The answer came the summer before Elsa’s senior year. College and university coaches approached us; verbal offers are on the table. We will have to wait until spring before written offers come our way. Strangely, most of the offers are not for tennis, technically speaking. Though Division III schools cannot give athletic scholarships, merit aid must be given in accordance with Title IX, and plenty of it is offered to talented and scholarly female student-athletes. Though the federal law would seem to only affect state colleges, it, in fact, has a far broader impact because it applies to any school who receives federal funding, allows its students to apply for and receive federal aid, and participates in sports associations such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In other words, pretty much all colleges in the US of A.

A couple of nights ago, I received a call from another tennis coach at an expensive Division III school in California. She wanted to answer any questions about the school and was hoping Elsa would visit to see if the college would be a good fit. She assured me that an excellent financial package was possible. After all these years of attending tournaments in second-hand clothes and way-too-old vehicles, it felt good to be courted, sought after.

Now that I’ve been through the ropes with Elsa, I’m already gearing up for my sophomore, Greta, to accomplish the same thing. Thanks to Title IX , good genes, and good coaching, our posse of female athletes have a chance at a high-quality college education without paying for it the rest of their lives. Thanks to Title IX, female student-athletes can get a leg-up to a promising future in a very insecure economy.

Danielle Harris is a freelance writer and copywriter. Married to artist Paul Harris, they raise four daughters in rural Central Oregon. She writes on a variety of subjects including artists, traveling, birds and birding, outdoor activities with kids, and raising a family on a shoestring budget.