Skieologians: Reflecting on Title IX

Lessons and perspectives from our summer series

Title IX, which turned 50 this year, opened the door for many of the highly successful girl's prep teams in the Vail Valley, including the VMS soccer program.
Ella Towle/Courtesy photo

A couple of national sports radio hosts were discussing the Big Ten’s new T.V. contracts with NBC, CBS and FOX the other day when one said something along the lines of, “Well, with all that money, they’ll be able to bring back the non-revenue sports they (the University of Minnesota) cut, right?”

He continued, saying, “I mean, they’ll have to stay in compliance with Title IX, but still.”

His second quote irked me slightly. My personal connection to Title IX — aside from the inspiring stories we featured this summer in the Vail Daily — is somewhat of a sore spot in my sporting saga. 

During my freshmen year at Bemidji State University, our small men’s track team was cut so the school could “remain in Title IX compliance.” Interestingly, Title IX decrees three-prongs, and a team only needs to meet one to “be in compliance.” This often missed technicality has been misunderstood and misused for well over a decade as schools operate with the bottom dollar in mind, leveraging the landmark bill when it is convenient to do so, even seemingly against the actual letter of the law.

I ended up transferring schools and things worked out, but for the last decade, whenever I hear about Title IX, I’m often reminded of the bill’s unfortunate underbelly. Perhaps to know fault of its own, Title IX is routinely welded to undercut non-revenue sports like swimming, running, golf and gymnastics. 

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Tatum Coe played football for Eagle Valley last fall.
Tracy Coe/Courtesy photo

That being said, conversing with Tatum Coe, the Smith sisters, Alice Plain and several others was perhaps just as much a therapy for me as it was a chance to highlight and feature them. I expected to discover a few great stories. I didn’t expect to drum up and then let go of the bitterness I’ve held onto from the disbanding of our tightly-knit club of Northern Minnesotan collegiate harriers. But, in reflecting on some of the highlights of the series, I’m not sure how I could have expected anything else.

Take the scenes of the Smith family: heading out the door of their humble 900-square foot house after doing dishes to play badminton as a family or field grounders from their dad; cousins and friends strolling across the alley to play a game of football in the middle of Main Street. This — free play — is the essence of sports.

I remember my dad teaching my brothers and I how to play football — and explaining how his dad did the same thing for him and his brother — and then playing endlessly, sans parental, coaching or officiating overlords. Siblings invent sports, keep score, and finish triple-overtime contests based less on the clock counting down and more on thirst for mom’s lemonade or homemade cookies. 

Coe provided another poignant moment. Her words are powerfully encouraging to girls discouraged that disparities in pay, uniforms and crowd size still persist a half-century after Title IX’s 37 words came to be.

“I know a lot of the sports I play don’t get attention from fans. Until this year we never had people come to our soccer games,” former Eagle Valley star Tatum Coe said back in July.

“So, it was never really about putting on a show for a crowd but more about developing yourself as a human being and developing relationships with the girls you’re playing with. … That aspect helped me grow more confident in myself. Like, I don’t need approval from other people. As long as I’m happy with who I am and what I’m doing, that’s all that matters.”

It struck me that not having fans actually allowed sports transcendent qualities to shine brighter and stick better.

Marci Smith’s main takeaway from sports — that it sharpened ones’ abilities to have grit and “get through tough times” — surely resonated with readers who, like the Smiths, felt the truest sense of feminine beauty and toughness is revealed, honed and embraced in athletics. I believe many of those themes connect to the women of our community at every social-economic status — and perhaps even with those who never played an organized sport — but still know what it means to feel exhausted after a hard day’s work.

Working up a sweat, scraping a knee and getting back up to try again — as well as winning and losing graciously — were some beautiful truths all of the Smith sisters represented.

I received an email from their coach, Mary Bowman, recently. She read our series from her current home in Salt Lake City and said she would be happy to have me share some of her memories.

“I really enjoyed reading the article and timeline coverage,” she started.  

“When I moved to Eagle as a school teacher/coach in the early ’70s after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado, there were no sports for girls.”

She wrote of how she started Girls’ Athletic Club, had “play days” — long but “fun” Saturdays where girls from regional schools congregated to compete. Then of course, she recalled CHSAA sanctioning sports and the successful Eagle Valley teams she led to state on multiple occasions.

Tammie Smith’s move to DI college volleyball was big news locally back in 1978.
Eagle Valley Enterprise archives/Courtesy photo

“It was an exciting time, and of course, I had some great athletes, including Tammie Smith, her sister, Val. Those were fun years,” she reminisced.

“There are many stories, but I will stop here.”

I’m sure many locals could share stories for hours. When the 100th anniversary rolls around, I’m hopeful — and confident — the sports desk will have plenty to write about.

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