This is the first in a series of first-person essays by high school athletes discussing how Title IX has affected them. Kyley Reed, the Connecticut State Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year and a Rice University commit, writes about what her mother (and coach) taught her about the landmark law, and how that informed her appreciation for the athletic opportunities she enjoys.
A few years ago, a fiery debate regarding women's sports -- is cheerleading a sport? -- filled the halls of my high school. People chatted, argued, debated and wrote about the issue. I was just a freshman, so I mostly kept quiet and listened, but I did make sure to keep myself informed. And while reading an article on the topic in the school newspaper aloud to my friends, I came across a reference that tripped me up. "Title IX states that ...," I read, then paused. "Wait, what is Title Six?"
Before you jump to conclusions, I've always had trouble with Roman numerals. I am actually very aware of the significance of Title IX, thanks to my mother. But it became apparent most of my friends were not, as the only answer that followed my painfully ignorant question was, "No idea."
My Title IX story begins not with myself, but with my mother. And hers begins with the women who came before her, who gave her the chance to pursue her true passion and helped provide opportunities that drastically changed the course of her life.
Shockingly energetic with an overwhelming amount of athleticism and a killer work ethic -- that was my mom. That is my mom. Simply put, she was an athlete. She played any and every sport she could in high school, excelling at all of them.
My mom graduated in the spring of 1976. She would normally have been preparing to put herself through college as a regular student, just as her siblings did. But a year before she graduated, a rather special piece of legislation was finalized, implemented and enforced. Title IX officially arrived in college athletics in 1975, and with it came female athletes in droves. So my mom did not have to hang up her sneakers after high school and suppress the wild amount of energy and athleticism that had come to define her. Instead, she took her talents to the University of Alabama, where she would play both volleyball and basketball on an athletic scholarship.
Fast-forward about 20 years. My mom was an avid storyteller, and I was -- even at age 4 -- an eager listener. Among the many wild tales my mom would tell about her college years, the story of how she got there was one liked to share most. So as a little girl with pigtails sitting happily in the ball cart during volleyball practice, I'd already learned something about Title IX.
My mom was also an avid story-repeater. So by the time I was 7 and starting to become interested in playing sports myself, I could recite the tale of how my mother got to Alabama. Although I didn't entirely understand my mom's experience, I knew that she had not received an athletic scholarship on her own. She'd had the support of generations of females before her, whose hard work had finally come to fruition.
And 10 years later, when I sat down to sign my own National Letter of Intent (to play volleyball), I finally saw how important Title IX still is. I will get to compete at the Division I level, just like any other athlete, male or female. I will experience life as a college student-athlete, just as my mom did. And I will remember that my athletic opportunities stemmed from the women before me who fought for me to have them. I will also remember that Title IX extends beyond athletics, that it is a movement of equality for all groups that have battled inequality. And if I forget, my mom will remind me.
Awareness of Title IX among people of my generation is not nearly as prevalent as it should be. We get a taste of what Title IX is in U.S. History class, but that's not enough. I'm thankful that I've had my mother to educate me about the law, because Title IX means to my generation what it would mean to any other: opportunity.
So what separates athletes of my generation from athletes of the generations before me? For those who benefitted from Title IX, not much. We are all products of this movement. As a young female athlete, I can only hope that the awareness, support and appreciation for Title IX never falters. As long as Title IX is recognized and supported, female athletes will continue to shine.