Forty Years Later, Title IX Resonates with NAU Female Staff and Coaches
By Andrew Tomsky, NAU Media Relations
Forty years ago today, the following sentence was put into US law: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity. The word athletics does not appear in this proclamation, but that simple sentence gave women an opportunity to compete in sport that had not previously existed.
Title IX was a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 as part of the Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Its impact spread throughout the United States education system, but its greatest effect was in high school and collegiate athletics where, for the first time, women's sports had to have equal funding and representation to male sports sponsored by the institution. Forty years later, the lives of thousands of women, including several former collegiate athletes working for NAU Athletics, have been guided by this decree.
"Title IX gave me the opportunity to pursue athletics collegiately and the passion that I developed being a college athlete spurred my interest in a career within collegiate athletics," said NAU Associate Athletic Director and Senior Women's Administrator Beth Vechinski, who played field hockey collegiately at the University of the Pacific. "I was given the opportunity and am thankful for that because of Title IX. I got an excellent education and developed leadership skills by playing a sport. I owe a lot of my professional skills to the skills I learned being a member of a Division I field hockey program."
Vechinski competed in sports from a very young age, as her entire life, from being a youth athlete, a high school standout, earning a collegiate athletic scholarship, and working in athletics since her graduation, has been shaped by Title IX. Those opportunities were not available to the previous generation of aspiring female athletes.
"My mom didn't play sports because it wasn't offered for her," said Vechinski. "I was an athlete since I was four years old, and she pushed me to benefit from the opportunities that she didn't have. It showed me that as a female I could do anything a male could do and that the opportunities were present for me to be what I wanted to be."
That sentiment was echoed by NAU Academic Coordinator Diana Ulrey, a former rower at Clemson University who used athletics as an arena for finding out who she was.
"The most impactful part of participating in college athletics for me was having alternative definitions of what it means to be a strong woman," said Ulrey. "When Title IX was initially enacted, I don't think anybody had any idea what women were capable of, especially in the realm of athletics. For me, it was finding a whole new tier of potential in myself and I've committed my life to college athletics because I believe it is a valuable experience for both men and women that Title IX created."
Not only did collegiate athletic competition give Ulrey a window to explore her passions and define her adult self, it also gave her a chance to get a free degree. The equality of funding brought on by Title IX applied not only to team sponsorship and expenses but also scholarships, providing the opportunity for countless women to get their degree who may not otherwise have had that opportunity. And in the case of NAU Assistant Athletic Director for Academics Pam Lowie, Title IX gave her a sport in which to follow her passion and get a great education.
"I had the opportunity to play three different sports in high school which led to being able to go to Connecticut on a lacrosse scholarship," said Lowie, who was an All-American in lacrosse at UConn. "Connecticut added lacrosse as a result of Title IX, so without it I wouldn't have had that opportunity to compete there and get a great education, which led to my future career in collegiate athletics. If I was 10 years younger when I went to school I couldn't have done that. Athletics in general has shaped my entire life."
NAU Director of Tennis Kim Bruno served as a graduate assistant coach at Connecticut after a standout career as a player at NAU, as tennis gave her not only a bachelor's degree but also a master's degree. She returned to NAU in 2006 as the head women's tennis coach before assuming the role of director of tennis and also leading the NAU men's tennis team since 2009.
"Title IX is a life changer for me," said Bruno. "I don't think I would be where I'm at today without it. My mother was an unbelievable athlete and didn't have those opportunities that I have had and now I'm sitting in a position that I always wanted to be in instead of wondering what I would have been. Without sports I wouldn't be happy, period."
Coaching a men's sport also puts Bruno in rare company as a female head coach.
"I came here thinking I would just be the women's coach and never thought I would have the opportunity to coach men as well," she said. "I honestly can't see women coaching male athletes even 10 or 15 years ago so it's definitely been a privilege. It's definitely happening more so than it's happened in the past and it's accepted a lot more."
The newest female staff member at NAU is Sue Darling, who was named women's basketball head coach on Monday. Darling was entering middle school when Title IX went into effect, as she had the unique perspective of growing up with limited athletic opportunities and witnessing the dramatic change first hand.
"I grew up in a family with sisters and brothers and my brothers got to play little league and go to basketball camp and my sisters and I didn't," said Darling. "Luckily we grew up in a neighborhood where there were tons of kids so I didn't totally feel like I missed out an opportunity because we were all out playing, but when I got to middle school there were no teams for girls while there were teams for boys. Finally in high school there were limited opportunities for girls so I definitely am a Title IX kid, somebody that was on the cusp. I didn't have opportunities and then my opportunity came as I got into high school and college, and being in athletics for the rest of my life I have seen the growth of all sports and most of all women's sports. I think it's been tremendous and it's been inspirational and you now see what it's done for women."
The opportunities to play collegiate sports and pursue their athletic passions led NAU's female staff members into future careers in athletics but not as professional athletes, as the overwhelming majority of all NCAA student-athletes no longer compete competitively after graduation. It is the lessons they've learned, the education they've received, and the maturity they've developed from being student-athletes that prove to be the long term payout.
"I've seen female athletes come in here as frightened, immature young kids and by the time they graduate are totally different people, and athletics leads them to that," says Bruno. "It gives them a sense of accomplishment and the ability to work with others in a team setting. It makes them confident to go out into the work force and they know that they've been put in situations that most people haven't been in their lives."
"When employers interview prospective employees, they like to see sports on their resume because of all the things that sports do," added Darling. "The teamwork, the dedication, the discipline – the same attributes it takes to play sports apply in real life. That's why sports in general are so important, and Title IX giving women the ability to develop those characteristics has made a huge impact not only on women in athletics but women in the work force."
Forty years after its inception, the benefits provided by Title IX are almost taken for granted by current female athletes. And that is a positive – it means they can't even consider a world without equal athletic opportunities. But it is important that they realize the work done by the women that came before them in bringing athletic equality to all.
"We don't know what it's like without having the benefits of Title IX," said Vechinski. "Being a member of NACWAA (The National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators) and surrounding myself with other women in administrative roles and hearing their stories pre-Title IX and the impact that it has had on athletics gives you a greater appreciation for what those trailblazers did to pass the legislation. We have reaped the benefits because 40 years ago they saw the need and saw the disparity and did something about it."
"I was inspired by the women before me and at the same time I'm kind of the Title IX baby," added Darling. "These days girls don't know what Title IX is and it's because the way they are treated is not that far from the way the boys are treated. You think it's sad they don't know, but at the end of the day you are kind of glad they don't know. I want to educate them because they need to know the history, but I love that they already expect to be treated the same way as their counterparts. It brings tears to my eyes to see female student-athletes succeed."
The role of women as undergraduate athletes and as post graduate staff and coaches continues to grow and has reached new heights in Flagstaff. The NAU Athletics staff and coaches are now led by a woman in Dr. Lisa Campos, who was hired as Northern Arizona Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics in March, becoming just the 26th NCAA Division-I female athletic director in the country.
"Hiring Dr. Campos is huge for all of our staff and provides me with a female mentor that I've never had in that position," said Lowie. "Not many universities have a female leading their athletics program and I'm really excited about the direction we're going and I think our female student-athletes are really excited too. NAU is absolutely a great place for a female student-athlete to be."
Seeing female student-athletes succeed as they did in their collegiate playing days gives the NAU female staff and coaches great satisfaction and hope for the continued growth of women not only in sport but in life as a whole.
"There aren't words to describe how proud I am of my student-athletes," Bruno said. "I still keep in contact with 95% of those that have graduated, and they have accomplished great things and have risen to important positions and are successful because of what they've been through as student athletes. Athletics is a whole different part of their resume that people can look at and understand the commitment that it takes. They are more marketable and successful in life as a result of being student-athletes and we have to thank Title IX for that."
"It's empowering to see our student-athletes succeed," concluded Lowie. "It makes me enjoy my job on a daily basis when I see them enjoying what they do and getting great results. It takes a lot of dedication and perseverance to be a student-athlete and it makes me proud to see them have success in many arenas."
NAU Athletics Female Former Student-Athletes
Kim Bruno (Director of Tennis) - Tennis - Northern Arizona
Sue Darling (Women's Basketball Head Coach) - Basketball - Arizona
Jeana Fuccillo (Swimming Assistant Coach) - Swimming - UCLA
Megan Greene (Volleyball Assistant Coach) - Volleyball - Northern Arizona
Nikki Huffman (Diving Coach) - Diving - Oakland
Holly Jones (Women's Soccer Assistant Coach) - Soccer - Northern Arizona
Pam Lowie (Assistant Athletic Director for Academics) - Lacrosse - Connecticut
Diana Ulrey (Academic Coordinator) - Rowing - Clemson
Beth Vechinski (Associate Athletic Director/SWA) - Field Hockey - Pacific