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June 16, 2012

Joyce Wheeler: An early taste of inequities, then a chance to change them

By Glenn Jordan
Staff Writer

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.

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Joyce Wheeler, Superior Court Justice, talks about her experience with inequality in sports before Title IX was implemented. Photo by Glenn Jordan/Staff Writer

Photo by Glenn Jordan/Staff Writer


Julia Pitney
Brush with bias shapes life of advocacy
Read her story

Joyce Wheeler
An early taste of inequities, then a chance to change them
Read her story

Lynn Welch
Once Title IX began, she saw fairness, respect
Read her story

Leigh Saufley
When Saufley was in school, ‘girls’ sports were not big’
Read her story

Dr. Dora Anne Mills
Sports in school became a lifetime passion
Read her story

Gary Fifield
USM was strong advocate of women’s programs, coach says
Read his story

Joanne P. McCallie
“Title IX gave me a sense of belonging”
Read her story

Emily Ellis
“I knew I could play with those guys’’
Read her story

Kristen (Briggs) Carmichael
Star athlete grateful for better scholarship opportunities
Read her story

Janet Judge
Opportunities fuel pride, and a desire to give back
Read her story

Coach William “Tige’’ Curran
As opportunities improved, so did the athletes
Read his story

Sarah (Marshall) Ryan
Reaping the benefits of ‘the people who came before me’
Read her story


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.

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