While the Supreme Court and some states across the country are stripping away people’s rights and denying them access to opportunity, this year, our nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX being signed into law. The landmark action requires everyone, regardless of their gender, to have the same access to education and opportunity.

Susan Deschambault

At first, Title IX was meant to equalize college admissions, but it eventually also allowed for girls and women to participate in sports. Today, 3 million more high school girls can play sports, and women make up 44 percent of all college athletes – compared to just 15 percent before Title IX. I went through all of my schooling before Title IX was the law of the land. It was a different time both on the basketball court and inside the classroom.

From 1963 to 1966, I remember playing basketball on the girls’ team. There were so few girls playing that we were lucky to even have a team. We played the game differently, too. Some players were stationary, while only two were able to cross half court. You could dribble just three times before passing the ball or taking a shot. If you’re watching the WNBA now, or any girls’ high school or women’s college team, you’d never know how different things used to be unless you lived it.

In 1971, when I graduated from St. Francis College, which is now the University of New England, I was one of maybe 20 female students in the entire class. In fact, the class of ’71 was the first class to allow women to enroll. When my class was going to take a field trip to the prison, gals weren’t allowed to go. I was only able to go when the guys in the class protested and said that they wouldn’t go if I couldn’t, too. Just a year after I graduated from St. Francis, Title IX became law in 1972.

That was also the year when Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right to privacy for people to make personal health choices in consultation with their doctor – not a politician or a Supreme Court Justice. It’s interesting how my personal history has marched along with the broader changes in American history.

It might not sound extraordinary to say this in 2022, but girls and women deserve the same access to opportunities – and the same rights – that boys and men enjoy. That’s why, even with all that is going on around the country and the world, we must pause and take a moment to celebrate this special anniversary.

Advertisement

As I was reflecting on how far we’ve come, I have noticed some of the girls who have embraced opportunity and played their sport well.

Earlier this summer, Biddeford’s girls softball team claimed the Class A title over Messalonskee in an 8-1 victory. Pitcher Charlotte Donovan struck out 14 and hit a home run, while Chantelle Bouchard crushed a three-run homer. Baylor Wilkinson added her own home run, and Hannah Gosselin added two runs. I’m so proud of the hard work and dedication that these players and their coaches and families brought to the game. An 18-2 season is a dominant record.

I’m also proud of the sixth-grade girls’ basketball team from Biddeford Middle School and St. James School that was undefeated in the New England Tournament this spring. The travel team, coached by Kerry Mariello, went to Rhode Island, where they won all four games in the tournament. The team also won the Southern Maine Event League Championship and the Maine Hoops Town Team Tournament. These girls made Maine proud when they defeated teams from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Having these opportunities lets them compete not just with the boys, but with other places and states, too.

Before Title IX, there were fewer girls and women playing sports like basketball and softball. But just as important, Title IX changed the idea that only boys and men could do certain jobs. After 1972, women entered male-dominated careers and proved that they could be doctors, electricians, plumbers and police officers, too. This shift in the culture and thinking of who could do what has been a special thing to witness in my lifetime.

Susan Deschambault represents Senate District 32, Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman. She can be reached at [email protected] or 207-287-1515.

Comments are not available on this story.