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50 years of Title IX: then and now 

Mary Ellen Pethel speaks at a well-core event on Nov. 30 alongside Betty Wiseman about her new book, "Title IX, Pat Summitt, and Tennessee's Traiblazers: 50 Years, 50 Stories." Photo courtesy of Sam Simpkins.

“Title IX was the start, it is up to us to finish the race,” said Belmont assistant professor Mary Ellen Pethel, author of "Title IX, Pat Summitt, and Tennessee's Trailblazers: 50 Years, 50 Stories."

Title IX is the reason women can play sports post-high school and have the opportunities from a young age to play whatever sport, whenever they want.

Title IX, for all it has done for women in education and sports, is only 37 words in a 100-page law.

A federal law passed in 1972, Title IX eliminated discrimination based on sex for any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.

Before the law was passed, women's sports did not exist in higher education. If a woman wanted to play sports after high school, she had to play for a club team or an amateur league.

“When I was in high school, the only thing available for girls at that point was just physical education and basketball,” former Belmont women’s basketball coach and trailblazer Betty Wiseman said.

Wiseman grew up an exceptional athlete who played basketball from an early age. When applying for college, she was recruited by the Amateur Athletic Union in partnership with Nashville Business College in 1968.

The AAU was the only way for women to play sports at a higher level in Tennessee, but Wiseman did not want to go to Nashville Business College – she wanted to go to Belmont.

Wiseman chose Belmont over the AAU, but still wanted to play basketball.

In 1968, she started her own team when no other Tennessee school offered women’s basketball.

“I loved Belmont, and I loved what we stood for what we stand for today, but I did it out of out of the graciousness of my heart. I never received a salary for coaching,” Wiseman said.

Before Title IX was passed, the funding for women’s sports consisted of enough to pay for uniforms, nothing more. Wiseman coached because she loved it, and even drove the players in her car to tournaments.

“It wasn't easy at times. But we were family. And I loved every player that ever played for me and still hear from them today,” Wiseman said.

Susan Ross, who is also mentioned in Pethel’s book, started the women’s track and field program at Memphis State University in 1968.

When she wanted to start a program, the men’s coach would not let her onto the track to practice.

So, the women’s team would practice at 5 a.m. in order to avoid getting kicked off the track.

But when Title IX passed, this all changed.

Thanks to the legislation, women now had the ability to be on the track, or court, for just as long as the men’s teams.

Because of Title IX, the next generation of young women experienced athletics in a completely different way. This generation is known as the “Daughters of Title IX.”

The 1996 U.S. Olympic team consisted of this generation, and it was the first-time women’s soccer and softball were added to the Olympic Games.

In 1996, the “Daughters of Title IX” won gold in both events. They also won gold in basketball, track and field and gymnastics.

The “Daughters of Title IX” proved their skillset against the best teams in the world and showed their worth and talent.

“That’s how you see, like, has it worked? The best way to measure dominance is at the Olympics.” Pethel said.

Photo courtesy of Sam Simpkins

Renee Schultz, the Belmont senior associate athletic director for student-athlete success, shared her experiences in a conversation with Pethel about her ability to play any sport she wanted growing up.

“I was blessed with playing any sport that I wanted to play. I probably played more sports than my brothers did,” Schultz said.

Today’s generation of women are the fourth generation since Title IX passed – and even though there have been countless steps forward – there are still struggles for women’s education and athletics.

In 2021, San Antonio hosted the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

But when the players went to their weight room, they found a single dumbbell rack and a few yoga mats on a folding table.

The men’s weight room in Indiana, however, was filled with a vast selection of work out equipment.

This is the inequity that women deal with today.

“It really brought to light the inequality that was happening in those two tournaments,” Shultz said.

The NCAA tried to cover their tracks, but later apologized when they were proved to be in the wrong.

Pethel believes that equity can be found, it just needs to be fought for.

The fight for women’s rights comes from those who know and have experienced these discriminations, that is why she wrote her book.

“That’s my goal, to make sure that they are remembered,” said Pethel.

Through all the work Wiseman, Schultz and Pethel have done both on and off Belmont’s campus, these trailblazers will be remembered.

There has been so much done to help women, and this momentum has allowed for women to accomplish amazing things in the last 50 years.

"And I can honestly tell you from my perspective, that Title IX has done more for women than any other legislation,” Wiseman said. “And we're talking about salaries. We're talking about positions, we're talking about acknowledging that we women can get out of the kitchen, as they used to say.”

This article was written by Maya Burney

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