Now a Superior Court justice for Cumberland County, Joyce Wheeler was a member of the women’s sailing team as an undergraduate at Boston University in 1970, two years before the implementation of Title IX legislation.
Although both the men’s and women’s teams qualified for the national championships in Annapolis, Md., the school flew the men’s team to the event, but the women had to rent a station wagon and drive from Massachusetts to Maryland if they wanted to take part. “We all chipped in,” said Wheeler, who remembers cramming into the middle of the front seat for the long trip. “We had to pay for everything.”
Including the single motel room where the women squeezed in, while the men enjoyed multiple rooms with the school picking up the men’s bill.
“That really educated me about the inequities of men’s and women’s athletics,” Wheeler said. “Certainly, by that experience, I had been sensitized to the unfairness between the treatment of men and women in sports.”
Wheeler went on to become counsel to the University of Maine System and assisted with an audit of the athletic system requested by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education in the late 1980s. In addition to scholarships, the audit compared practice times, uniforms, playing field conditions, coaching resources, academic support and more.
Although there had been improvements for female athletes since her own undergraduate days, “the report clearly called for some changes,” Wheeler said.
The erstwhile sailor smiled at her small role in making athletic life more equitable for those who followed in her wake. “That felt good,” she said.