VHSL celebrates 50 years of Title IX | Sports
Virginia High School League development director Hannah Catherine Munro called Title IX “The 37 Most Important Words for Women in Athletics.”
Reiley Fitzpatrick, the 2022 VHSL Class 5 Athlete of the Year from Independence High School, could hardly hold back tears as she presented official legislation Thursday afternoon during a special ceremony marking Virginia’s 50th birthday.
Title IX, a federal statute passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, was a continuation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It reads: “No person in the United States shall be disqualified by reason of sex from participating in any educational program or activity which have received federal financial assistance, are denied the benefits, or are discriminated against in the context of educational programs or activities.
“I played sports in high school, college and for work, and I just can’t imagine my life without sports,” said UVa athletic director Carla Williams. “Yet before Title IX, dreams remained unfulfilled, physical talents lay dormant and untapped, leadership, organizational and managerial skills remained untapped. This should not have been the case and we must be vigilant to ensure this never happens again.”
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More than 200 people descended on the Alumni Hall on Thursday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the historic law. As part of the event, Sam Brunelle, former William Monroe High School standout and current Virginia basketball player, served as moderator for a panel of athletes and administrators who have helped pave the way for equality in women’s sports.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to speak to three great women who came before me and laid the groundwork for me to take advantage of all the benefits, all the really great things that come with Division I women’s basketball ,” Brunelle said. “I think it’s great to step back and hear their stories and understand what it took to lay those foundations.”
Panelists included Yori Hightower-Boothe, a two-time Olympic field hockey player and All-American at Old Dominion University, Vivian Greene Brown, a basketball player who was the first female athlete to receive a scholarship to Norfolk State University, and Kim Record, associate athletic director of UVa for external operations and deputy Title IX officer for the department.
“Each and every one of you has taken steps to help us get where we have been,” Hightower-Boothe said. “When I talk about what brought me here, my parents always told me that you can be anything you want to be and it doesn’t matter. My father always told me everything [sport] I made my decision, I had to go out there and play hard.
A multisport standout at Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach, Hightower-Boothe found her calling on the field with the ODU field hockey team. She led the Monarchs to the national title in 1982 and is a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and the ODU Hall of Fame.
“Staying involved is the most important thing,” Hightower-Boothe said. “Another way for us women to express ourselves is athletic, smart, everything, but just don’t give up. Keep playing, keep fighting and get involved. Someone has to be first, but don’t be last. Never be the last.”
Brown’s athletic career began in the early stages of Title IX. After a distinguished basketball career at Smithfield High School, her success continued on the hardwood at Norfolk State, where she led the Spartans to the program’s first conference title in 1975, the first year of its existence. She then played professionally in the original Women’s Basketball League for the Dayton Rockettes, St. Louis Streaks and Milwaukee Wranglers.
“There were a lot of things that weren’t fair, but it was an opportunity,” Brown said. “The fight is still there and there is still a lot to do. Everything is always a struggle at the beginning, but if you persevere to the end, you will reap the rewards.”
She averaged 25.1 points throughout her collegiate career and won a professional championship title with the Wranglers in her inaugural season.
“It’s always a struggle in the beginning,” Brown said. “I’m grateful that I was there from the start. I was there to see something begin. It wasn’t fun, but I was there. I can look back and say: I made it. I like to tell my story.”
Record made a name for themselves on the administrative side of athletics. The UVa graduate became North Carolina-Greensboro’s first female athletic director and served in the role for 12 seasons. Prior to that, the Fluvanna County native spent 13 seasons at Florida State University, where she oversaw the men’s basketball program and the women’s soccer and basketball programs and oversaw Title IX compliance before starting her current job at UVa.
“As I sat in this room today, I was one of the first women athletic directors in Division I, and at the time it was less than 5 percent,” Record said. “I can now sit here, back at the University of Virginia, and work with Carla Williams, the first woman of color at a Power 5 school. It’s not because of her skin color. It’s not because of her gender. It’s because she’s damn good. The first piece is when we stop talking about being first and it’s the new normal. It does not matter. That’s probably the next step. You’re the athletic director, period, and you’re good.”
Still, Record’s tenure as Administrator has had its challenges. She recalled some difficult moments during her tenure at Tallahassee.
“It was the first time I felt like I had a big ‘W’ on my chest,” Record said. “You are the woman person. You’re the person who handles all the girl stuff.”
Record said it was difficult for a 33-year-old to find her way. However, she credited great mentors for helping her along the way.
“If you wanted to be an athletic director, you hung out with athletic directors,” Record said. “If you go to a meeting of the Council of Presidents on behalf of the director of sport, you have not been sitting in the second row, where all the assistants were sitting. You sit at the table and that was scary at times. Most of the time they were all men and they gave you weird looks. Sometimes you had an answer, they would interrupt you, but I think the obstacles were different and I’ve learned so much from the coaches and the student athletes I’ve worked with about the types of obstacles.”
John W. “Billy” Haun, executive director of VHSL, said Thursday’s luncheon was the culmination of a year-long celebration. He said the journey was breathtaking for himself as he went back to learn more about Title IX and its implementation in Virginia.
“I was just amazed and intrigued by the things I learned,” he said. “You go back to the 1950s and 1960s and you look at the Virginia High School League protocol and it talks about girls sports and it’s clearly said in multiple issues and multiple years that these rules that we’re passing now, it’s not are to promote sports. It aims to try and control what is already happening in girls’ sport. Blown me away,” said Haun. “Are you kidding me? But there we were, there we are not.”
But the VHSL was at the forefront in terms of participation. Haun said several former League members were integral to the actual writing of Title IX legislation, which was approved 50 years ago.
“One of the greatest joys I’ve had is just learning about the people who paved the way,” Haun said. “Virginia has played a very important role and helped in this process. We just didn’t start women’s sports in high school in 1972. There were women playing, girls, but it was more like club teams, not recognised [teams]. There were no regional championships or state championships, but we had many pioneers out there, men and women, who promoted and supported women’s sports in our schools in the 1950’s and 1960’s and did that work. It’s just good for me to have the chance to experience who these people are and to be in this room today with some of these people is just fantastic.”
Former Albemarle High School Athletic Director Deb Tyson has a unique perspective on Title IX because she has seen the impact as an athlete, coach and administrator.
“Today was an amazing tribute to 50 years of Title IX,” said Tyson. “It was great to see how far we’ve all come. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to empower the men and women who came before us and had the courage to make a difference. Certainly, the passage of Title IX is worthy of celebration, but passage of a law does not mean that discrimination and inequality will disappear. This is a reminder to all of us that we must keep working together to protect our progress and keep doing and getting better.”
“It was very inspiring,” Record said. “I’ve been in this business for many, many years but you learn something every day and I think today was a wonderful way to celebrate the past, reflect on the future but live in the present. It was very moving. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be back at the University of Virginia, and then to be asked to serve on a Title IX panel I was almost speechless and a bit in awe of the other women in the Space. in addition to the women on the board.”
For Brunelle, she was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from the amazing women who came before her and helped lay the foundation
“Everyone has a story,” Brunelle said. “I know there are many stories to tell with women, the women who came before me and laid those foundations, and I look forward to sitting back and hearing their stories and hearing what they think about Title IX and as have say it has evolved over the years and learn more about it. I guess it’s easy to say you know what it is to a limited extent, but this was an opportunity to learn about it in much more detail. I think it’s great to step back and hear their stories and understand what it took to lay those foundations as these shifts for women’s rights continued to be pushed, especially in athletics.”