Fair Play

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The pages of the 1972 yearbook for my high school -- a school year that ended days before Title IX became law on June 23, 1972 -- include four pages of pride in graduate Diane Holum and then-junior Anne Henning, both of whom brought Olympic gold home from Sapporo, Japan. Henning graced the cover of Sports Illustrated that year, but neither appeared on the sports team pages of our yearbook. Girls appear on exactly two of those 38 pages, leaning over the pool in cute white outfits, with timers in their hands, and as "mat maids" supporting the wrestling team. Athletic opportunities for girls at our affluent, suburban high school are listed as noncompetitive "organizations"; synchronized swimming, gymnastics and dance.

Forty years after passage of Title IX, which requires schools receiving federal funds to provide equal opportunities to males and females, 3.2 million high school girls participate in sports; fewer than the 4.5 million boys, but a tenfold increase. Girls still have to fight for equal play, with federal court intervention necessary to allow some Title IX cases simply to be considered. It does leave one wondering what happens in places where 15-year-old girls aren't brave or determined enough to go to court, or lack the resources to do so. The difference goes beyond the playing field, too. A survey of 400 women executives done a decade ago -- women in school when fewer opportunities existed for athletic girls -- found an astonishing 80 percent were active in sports as girls.

The website of my high school today, though, lists as many girls' sports as boys'. I don't know if any of the girls are headed for the London Olympics, but 76 girls competed on the cross-country team alone, a team that didn't exist when I started in the fall of 1973. At 5'4", I wasn't among the 18 out of 1,500 girls talented enough to play on the schools first girls' basketball team. But my chance came when badminton was added my sophomore year, as the school geared up for compliance with Title IX.

With a Perspective, I'm Meg Waite Clayton.