News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Flashpoint

June 24, 2012

Flashpoint: Birch Bayh led way toward equality for women in sports

The typical Sports Illustrated cover features an eye-catching photo of an elite athlete captured at the moment of his (yes, more often “his” than “her”) greatest achievement. The cover of the May 7, 2012, edition, however, contains only 37 words, the text of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, signed into law 40 years ago by President Nixon on June 23, 1972.

For us, that cover is eye-catching for two reasons. First, we are the parents of two “Title IX daughters,” both of whom played volleyball at the Division 1 level. For those of us who grew up before the passage of Title IX, reflect for a moment on how many young women of our generations grew up without the chance to play school- or university-sponsored team sports. Thanks to the opportunities Title IX created for our daughters and millions of their peers from the time they entered elementary school, these young women experienced the many benefits that accompany participation in competitive team sports.

Most of the sports-derived benefits of Title IX are intangible: teamwork, leadership, competitive drive, focus, self-confidence and time management. Two are quite tangible: fitness and scholarships. Only 30,000 female student-athletes participated in college athletics in 1972, compared to more than 191,000 today. Over that same period, the proportion of boys to girls playing high school sports has dramatically improved from 12:1 to 1.3-1, with record participation numbers for both genders.

The second reason that magazine caught our eyes — and caused us to smile with pride — is that we both had the privilege of serving with the man who has become known as “The Father of Title IX,” Senator Birch Bayh.  (For those too young to remember Birch Bayh’s distinguished career, read about his leadership in “The Last Great Senate.” It covers a period in American history when the Senate was known for more than partisan gridlock. You’ll read that Sen. Richard Lugar was also a member in good standing of that productive body.)

Birch Bayh relentlessly pursued — and later steadfastly defended — Title IX because he learned that discrimination against women in higher education was pervasive: from undergraduate admission, to financial aid, to admission to graduate school, and to faculty hiring, promotion and tenure. The thousands of women who have earned college financial aid tied to participation in athletics are the secondary beneficiaries of Title IX; many millions more receive their diplomas, serve on faculties and lead our greatest universities thanks to Title IX.

Birch Bayh’s father taught at Indiana State Normal School, predecessor to Indiana State University, and he was the first faculty volunteer to serve in World War 1. After the war, Birch Sr. was the athletic director and coach of basketball, baseball and football, all at the same time. Later he was physical education director of the Terre Haute City Schools. Sen. Bayh was born and raised in Vigo County, graduated from high school and later operated a farm and was a lawyer in Terre Haute before going to the Indiana General Assembly and U.S. Senate.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, Herb Simon and the Indiana Fever organization honored Sen. Bayh’s legacy before the tipoff of last Thursday’s game. “The Father of Title IX” was greeted by thousands of his “daughters” and “granddaughters,” some dressed to play and others dressed to celebrate. It was a touching moment.

Let’s not forget that good men and women work hard to make good things happen. The next time you see Sen. Bayh in Terre Haute, tell him thanks for giving our daughters and granddaughters the opportunity to go as far as their abilities will take them.

Ann and Bill Moreau both worked in the Office of Sen. Birch Bayh. Bill is an Indianapolis attorney and assists Indiana State University in several areas.

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