by Karl Grossman |

Title IX, subsequently renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity Education Act, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon 45 years ago — on June 23, 1972.

Among the areas of discrimination in the United States that it changed was the downplaying of women’s sports at educational institutions.

A pioneer right here in Suffolk County in getting Title IX applied to sports for girls in schools was Eleanor A. Eckman, a physical education teacher at Bay Shore High School.

Now retired after 31 years of teaching, Ms. Eckman, speaking from her home in Patchogue, was recounting the other day how school sports for females were minimized while male sports were being highlighted.

“Not only highlighted but given more financial support,” she said.

“There was inequity,” said Ms. Eckman. “We had pitiful uniforms and pitiful time in the gym or on the field.”

Even the sporting seasons were set up differently.

“There were four shorter seasons for girls,” she said. “Way back then they didn’t think girls could last as long as boys. It was thought that females didn’t have the physical capabilities.”

Further, at her school there was only one coach each for most girls’ sports, while there were coaches and assistant coaches for many boys’ sports.

“I was the first person in Suffolk County to bring the situation to the New York State Division of Human Rights,” said Ms. Eckman.

She brought the action in 1974 at the Suffolk office of the division, headed by Vera Parisi, formerly assistant director of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.

The division “found that the school district was not in compliance” with Title IX. And the Bay Shore district began making changes.

“They didn’t have a choice. Either that or their having to go to court,” she said.

Helpful on the issue, said Susan Barbash of Bay Shore, was a protest at a school board meeting. Girls in their athletic uniforms came to the meeting.

Ms. Barbash, now a retired real estate developer, said “the story become legend. The girl athletes appeared in their uniforms to protest the inequitable funding” between boys’ and girls’ sports.  “There was theatre involved.”

Title IX, added Ms. Barbash, “was not just about playing sports, but access to college, as well. It has been so important.”

Ms. Barbash went on from Bay Shore High School to Radcliffe College, which then merged into its parent institution, Harvard, with Harvard — after centuries — no longer having an all-male student body.

As for sports in schools, today “everything is much more equal,” said Ms. Eckman.

However, there are still, she notes, areas of sports where a different situation exists for women. For example, “in major competitions in tennis, the men’s game is best of three-out-of-five while for women it’s two-out-of-three.”

Apparently there’s still belief that women can’t last as long as men in sports contests.

Jen Ackerman is a physical education teacher in the Eastport-South Manor Central School District. Today, indeed, girls and boys sports are regarded as “equivalent,” said Ms. Ackerman, a phys ed teacher for 19 years. “It’s come a long way,” said Ms. Ackerman, who lives in Manorville.

The legislation creating Title IX was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Birch Bayh of Indiana, while Patsy Mink of Hawaii was its sponsor in the House of Representatives. The law was renamed for Ms. Mink  in 2002 after her death that year.

On the Senate floor, in advocating for Title IX, Mr. Bayh declared:

“We are all familiar with the stereotype of women as pretty things who go to college to find a husband…and finally marry [and] have children….But the facts absolutely contradict these myths about the ‘weaker sex’ and it is time to change our operating assumptions.”

Title IX covers educational institutions receiving federal financial assistance. The U.S. Department of Education standards include “whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes; the provision of equipment and supplies; scheduling of games and practice times; provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities.”

For schools that do not receive federal aid, a third of states — including New York — have enacted parallel statutes similar to Title IX covering them. But that’s only a third.

As to more that should be done now regarding women and sports, Ms. Eckman, who retired in 1999, said that “in professional sports, women are still not paid at the same level as men.”

Also, “I don’t think coverage by TV, newspapers and the rest of media is at the same level. It’s getting there.” And, “in most sports they always have the finals of the men as the last event.

“The finals for women are the day before. The highlight is the men’s finals.”