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When Diane Wanser was in high school in the Orange County village of Otisville, she lived for the “play days” that were held once or twice a year.

This was the only time Otisville girls could compete in sports against other schools and vice versa.

“That’s all there was. There was nothing. Girls weren’t allowed to play competitive sports,” said the former longtime Middletown High School coach who is now the Section 9 girls soccer coordinator. “There was nothing else for girls. They would be Friday night and Saturday. Your school would play basketball, table tennis, badminton and volleyball.

Softball was added at some point before he graduated in 1967, he recalled.

For today’s female high school athletes — many hoping to be recruited by college and playing multiple school sports, often supplemented by year-round club play — Wanser’s memories may seem like Little House on the Prairie.

But with some differences, his story is widely shared by many who played and/or coached either before Title IX or shortly after the law was passed that banned sexual discrimination in educational institutions.

In June, Title IX turned half a century old.

While the move took a while to come to fruition, it has largely aged well and achieved more than its creators probably imagined.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, a national advocacy group, participation in girls’ high school sports has increased nearly 1,000% since the passage of Title IX, and female participation in collegiate sports has increased more than 500%.

Playing in skirts, driving team vans

But not only the number of participants has changed. To see also : The commission proposes a location for a new sports complex.

Talk to longtime female coaches in the area and they recall countless battles, including over uniforms, use of facilities, transportation and coaching fees.

The widely-told story of America’s most famous female coach of all time, the late Pat Summitt, who had to drive the Lady Vols basketball team’s van and wash the players’ uniforms after taking the job in 1974, is often surprising. those who only remember his eight NCAA titles and potential million-plus-dollar-a-year contract.

But people like Karen Peterson, who retired as Bronxville High’s athletic director in 2020, and current coaches Gina Maher of Irvington, Emily Watson of North Salem, Joan Spedafino of Rye Neck and Maria Mahoney, formerly of Carmel, Mahopac and Hen Hud, and now John Jay -East Fishkill, not surprised.

Everyone remembers when girls and women’s sports were a neglected afterthought to many, if a thought at all.

Watson, who graduated from the city’s Catholic high school in 1963, where she played three sports, was named to Springfield College’s first women’s athletic class.

But competition in field hockey, basketball, tennis and softball was “still competitive” but more friendly, Watson said.

“(After the game) we shared milk and cookies (with other teams),” he recalled.

It wasn’t until 1999 that the Section 1 girls’ basketball championship finally debuted at the Westchester County Center, despite the fact that the boys’ finals have been held there since 1933.

“The fight for the county seat was huge,” recalled Maher, who began coaching at Irvington in 1976, is a member of the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame and was a longtime soldier in the fight.

He also recalled when the girls’ state championship was held in a high school gym near Albany and the boys played in the city’s big arena.

While Maher noted that girls’ athletes have long been strongly supported at Irvington, he said that in his early years of coaching, the uniforms were all we could put together and the boys were out there in matching uniforms.

He also recalls, as a volleyball coach, having to attach the net to the walls because the school did not buy support posts.

“If it was boys, it would have been a lot different,” Maher said, remembering that games were often interrupted because the net had fallen down and had to be put back together.

“All you can do is laugh and pull them back. It was up to us (the coaches). It was kind of secondary,” Maher said.

But he had long since gotten used to things not being equal.

Maher, who also coached at Mercy College and his alma mater, Marymount, had been a swimmer, volleyball player and basketball player at Marymount. But they were “very modest” sports with limited schedules and no playoffs.

“We played every place we could find, but it was fun,” Maher said.

Wanser played basketball and softball at Orange County Community College, where the team’s uniform consisted of shorts, a white button-down shirt and tied numbered pants. But nobody complained.

“We felt special. We had something. We looked similar,” he said, noting the games were “one-off” and non-league.

Watson, who began coaching at North Salem in 1967, noted that several Tiger girls’ teams, including the basketball team, wore numbered jumpers along with the blouses worn by the field hockey team.

Yearbooks show the basketball team didn’t ditch the jumpers for shorts until the mid-70s.

This was not uncommon. Peterson still has a yearbook photo taken her freshman year at Green Brook High School in New Jersey wearing a kilt as a member of the girls basketball team.

“I’m in a skirt … and some kind of shirt. They didn’t buy us uniforms,” ​​Peterson recalled.

Even when she went to the University of Maine, where she played volleyball and softball before graduating in 1980, Peterson experienced gender discrimination.

She, like Mahoney, a 1980 Mahopac High School grad who played volleyball and softball at Stetson University in Florida, often drove vans, as did their coaches because their schools did not provide buses or drivers for the women’s teams.

“The boys had buses and money for meals,” Peterson said. “We had no money for food and had to take a bag lunch from the cafeteria.”

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Watson, who also traveled on buses in vans, said only once, during her senior year, did Springfield create a travel food allowance for women. It was $2 per basketball player.

At Stetson, the meal allowance was standard, but the boys got more and “just pocketed the extra money,” Mahoney said.

She’s still bummed, both she and the guy she knew from the baseball team were in work/study programs to pay for college, but her job involved working in a cafeteria between seasons and he didn’t do zero.

Ultimately, he had to pay the university, though he recalls being given $400 once.

“He was making money and doing nothing,” he said. “I really worked and still owed them.”

“All he did was show up to practice. He got extra money for being on the team. It was so unfair, so unfair,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney, who attributes a recent knee replacement to a torn ACL in high school that went unrepaired and a surgeon telling her, “You have a really big scar, and what girl wants a big scar?”, recalled her college volleyball coach fighting for things. such as practice forms and a larger schedule.

“It was crazy,” she said, also lamenting that the volleyball team only had one and a half scholarships to offer and softball only one.

Mahoney talks about those experiences to the kids on her John Jay-East Fishkill volleyball team.

“I want to make sure the girls know the stories. … I tell them, ‘You don’t even know how lucky you are. You don’t realize how lucky you are,'” Mahoney said.

“Play Days” to limited real competition

Wanser attended high school for several years before receiving Title IX and graduated in 1967. To see also : For the first time, scientists have named a heat wave. Here’s why it’s a big deal.

That time looms large for sports historians because in 1967, Katherine Switzer changed the sport forever, dodging an angry race official to run and finish the famous, then all-male Boston Marathon.

At Wanser High School (which closed long ago and village students now attend Minisink Valley High School), the boys played full sports schedules in leagues.

The girls were given these play days, which were usually held at Orange County Community College.

At the time, Wanser was more grateful and accepting than resentful.

“It filled a void. It was something. I lived for it. I couldn’t wait,” he said.

“They had it arranged. That was it. You accepted it. There was no way you could challenge. If you tried to challenge, you didn’t win. At the time, no one was paying attention.”

Maher considers himself lucky. She grew up in New York City and attended an all-girls Catholic school that offered league play in several sports against other schools.

But while Maher had no problem playing around the neighborhood with and against boys, including future University of North Carolina player, NBA coach and Knicks president Donnie Walsh, hers was an era when girls’ teams played six-man basketball, with three players on each end of the court and three from each team at the other end.

“(We were told) you can’t do this and you can’t do this, but we could have children. We’re strong physically and mentally,” Maher said.

“The whole thing was that we weren’t strong enough to run up and down the field, but I always said, ‘We can give birth for three days.’

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Facilities battles

In some ways, fulfilling Title IX’s promise of equality, or at least something close to it, including the move to five-man basketball across the country, seemed like a very tall order. Read also : Westlake students win national business competition with app pitch.

Apart from the use of the county center for championships, there were daily problems with insufficient practice and playing opportunities.

While Mahopac’s baseball team played on a nice field, the softball team played on the elementary school’s playground, Mahoney said.

But because elementary school was dismissed later than high school, the field was not made available for team practice.

Instead, a portable playing machine purchased by his coach was set up on a blacktop area and practiced on a small plot of land adjacent to the school’s tennis courts.

“I think it was just accepted, but we realized it was unfair,” Mahoney said.

Spendafino, the Ryeneck softball coach, graduated from Mamaroneck High in 1980 after playing basketball and softball for the Tigers. He noted that due to a lack of field space, his softball team had to play at nearby Harbor Park, where games ended with a time limit to allow local recreational teams to use the field.

Peterson said Maine had separate men’s and women’s athletic departments and separate gymnasiums and athletic buildings.

And no surprise: “The boys got a big farmhouse,” Peterson recalled.

But the female athletes finally stood out in one respect.

The women had a Nautilus machine in the basement of the women’s gym. The boys had a weight room with a universal machine.

“All the seniors were sitting in the men’s gym until they finally opened up that weight room (to women) once a week,” Peterson recalled.

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Fighting for more sports and equal coach pay

Many other mini-wars of great consequence were fought elsewhere both before and after.

Wanser, who began teaching at Middletown High School in 1972, said there may have been some form of competitive basketball before he arrived. But she and fellow teacher Kathy Sannwald started an actual varsity girls high school team that played in the league, and Wanser later started girls soccer at the school as well.

When the first two offered basketball, he said to the administration’s response, “Are you sure if they lose their first game, they want to keep playing?”

With the approval, the district agreed to pay for only one coach, hiring Sannwald, who then told Wanser he should coach as well and they would split the money.

Wanser recalls that the total salary was less than $400, much less than the salary of male coaches of boys’ teams at the time.

He and Sannwald later disputed this.

“The problem for me at the time was that somebody had to fight back,” Wanser said. “You pay me one third of what you pay a male trainer.”

The superintendent of schools called a meeting of all the coaches and the women had to “defend why we should pay equally.”

“Most (of the coaches) fought us,” she recalled, noting that only two young male coaches spoke up for them, expressing shock at the idea that women should be paid less.

The inspector then offered them some more money, which they refused.

But it wasn’t long before their wages were equalized. When the boys’ swim coach was also appointed to lead the girls’ team, the board of education discussed the salary and decided that he should earn the same amount for coaching the girls as the boys.

The district quickly realized that it had set a precedent.

Not only did women not get a raise, but a few years ago.

But equal pay has also had an unintended downside.

When Peterson got to high school, he only had female coaches. Men were paid stipends to coach, but the contracts of all female physical education teachers required them to coach two non-paying sports.

“By 1974, they had to build a scholarship list (paying everyone to coach),” Peterson recalled. “All female coaches were pushed out by men. I remember my basketball coach was freaking out. She was told she was less qualified (because she was a woman). It didn’t sit well with me. Women lost athletic director and coaching jobs because these jobs became more prestigious (with equal pay).

“Some girls grow up and have never seen a female coach. That’s one of the things Title IX hurts,” added Peterson, who would like to not only see more female coaches, but also to see women coaching boys, in part so that boys see women in a different light.

Optimism but also a call for vigilance

However, Title IX is overwhelmingly seen as positive for women.

Several coaches pointed out how important it is over the years that many men have not only supported this, but supported girls’ sports as a whole.

One, Rye Neck athletic director Joe Ceglia, floated the idea on a recent Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of Title IX with multiple girls’ games. He enlisted the help of Title IX attorney Spedafino, among others.

“As the years go by, the more opportunities there are,” said Spedafino, a member of the New York State High School Softball Hall of Fame. “Now I feel like everything is very equal. Now it’s so different, thank God.”

“It’s a great tribute,” he added of the current opportunities, “to all the people who worked so hard over the years to make everything equal.”

One of them, of course, was Wanser, who still watches high school athletics outside of football, which he coordinates.

He noted that as a child, a friend tried to play Little League baseball, but was “thrown before he got to the field.”

Now, Wanser says, she watches the girls compete with the boys on Minisink Valley’s vaunted wrestling team and “no one bats an eye.”

“I was hoping that day would come and the odds would be evened out. But I have to say, it amazes me and excites me,” Wanser said.

“It’s very close to being completely equal, but we should still be concerned. People should be aware of how valuable things are and that they can be taken away from them,” he added.

And Wanser noted that at the professional level, female athletes still earn far less than their male counterparts.

But he suggested it might not be forever.

“Hopefully in just 10 years we’ll be saying, ‘Can you believe we had that conversation?’ Now women earn more than men.” “

Nancy Haggerty covers cross country skiing, track & field, field hockey, skiing, ice hockey, girls’ lacrosse and other sporting events in The Journal News/hollows. Follow him on Twitter at both @HaggertyNancy and @LoHudHockey.

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