Digital Harbor senior basketball player A'Lexus Harrison said she knows of Title IX, but not much. It's simply not something that she needs to think about. Yet the law has guided the academic and career path of the 6-foot-1 All-Metro forward. First, it was indirectly: Harrison believes she was the only girl her age playing youth tackle football in the city, something that might not have been allowed 40 years ago. And then, it was directly: Harrison orally accepted a scholarship to her dream school, Maryland, entering her sophomore year of high school. Now, the girl who has already joined the likes of Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker in her ability to dunk a basketball, has eyes on the WNBA and a future as a lawyer.
"I had to go through all this stuff showing [the league] that nowhere in the rule book does it say that a girl can't play [football]. And as long as I could handle it, I could play. And I played and I was actually pretty good. I became one of the big people in the little-league games. And it was crazy because dads would be like, 'Tackle him! Tackle him!' And at the end of the game I'd be like, 'I'm not a him. Please, I'm not a him.' … I was just a player to [my teammates]. It wasn't like, 'Oh no, this is our girl, don't touch her.' It was, 'Hey, if you're not going to hit me, I'm going to hit you. So don't treat me like I'm a girl, treat me like I'm a football player just like you.'
"For our school, the girls [basketball team], I think we get a little bit more attention than the boys do. … As far as in the school building, our girls get a lot more attention than our boys do. Our games, our big games, we had teachers and parents drive from here down to Aberdeen to watch us play. And our boys they just don't get the support because they don't put in the work like we do.
"There was no WNBA [before Title IX]. You played and that was it. You were a name that was known, but women's basketball has taken a huge leap over the last few years, and I think it's only going to get bigger because there's so much young talent coming in. … I think it's just like, hey, we're girls, but just because we're girls doesn't mean we can't come out and do the same thing. Like most people didn't expect girls to dunk. Candace Parker, Lisa Leslie, they've all shattered that. And now the fact that I can even do it, guys aren't the only ones that can dunk now."
— As told to Zach Helfand
Pick a role in the basketball world, and there's a good chance Dana Johnson has filled it at some point. But if she was born just a couple of decades earlier, Johnson doesn't know whether she would've had the same opportunities. Johnson earned All-America honors as a center at Western in 1991, which drew the eye of Pat Summitt. At Tennessee, Johnson reached the national championship game in 1995, and after graduating, she played professionally in France, Hungary and the American Basketball League, before beginning her coaching career. In 2002 when Johnson accepted the boys head coach position at Southside Academy, she became the first female coach in the metro area to lead a boys varsity team. Without the Title IX legislation, Johnson, now the athletic director at Dunbar, believes she still would've been a coach and a teacher but doubts she would've been able to play professionally.
"When I was in high school and in college, that's when the opportunities of actually getting paid to play the sport was really coming up, was really getting big. I didn't think of it in the Title IX aspect; I just thought of it as I could actually make a living playing the sport. But when you look at it in the big picture, of course that's a part of Title IX. If we weren't given that opportunity to play on the college level and go to school for free and get on — I won't say a level playing ground — but on a playing ground just as the men were, that definitely brought up the opportunities that when I started playing the sport as a freshman in high school to think that I was going to be able to graduate from college in August and go overseas and play a week later and get paid for it.
"Being at Tennessee, I think our program was just as reputable and as marketable as the men's program. On some levels, I would say just from the marketing standpoint and the notoriety, we were definitely on the football level. You thought about the football team, you thought about the women's basketball team. But you can never compare the financial piece. It will never be a comparison with the financial piece. We could've sold the arena out every home game and it still wouldn't balance out, but notoriety and just everybody knowing, we were comparable to the men's program.
"It's still not on the same playing field. And I can say case in point: the WNBA and the NBA. … Financially, there's a big lag, but what can you do? I don't think the quality of the game is any different. The style of the game is different. You're not having somebody dunk on every other play; you're not having someone jump out of the gym on every other play. But you still have those plays. A young lady is still running down as fast as she can and doing a layup. It's still two points. It's not as flashy, it's not as stylish, but it's the same concept. But once again it's just the financial piece. I hate to say it, but as long as there's going to be numbers attached to it, I don't think it will ever be even or level, as long as there's a dollar sign attached to it.
"I'm always going to push for girls athletics because one, I know what it can do for you, I'm a product of it. I was afforded the opportunity to go to school for free. I was afforded the opportunity to see the world for free and play the sport, and in some cases got paid for it. So if I in turn can give another young lady an opportunity that was given to me, I'm definitely going to do what I can do."
— As told to Zach Helfand
Dipper excelled in field hockey and lacrosse at Kingsway Regional High School in N.J., and competed in both sports her freshman year at Maryland. After winning a national title in field hockey as a reserve goalie in 2008, she began focusing solely on lacrosse. She was named the 2011 IWLCA National Goalie of the Year, and was a member of the ACC Championship All-Tournament team all four seasons of her career.
"I'm so grateful for the opportunities I have right now, and I know it was a lot harder for [my mom] even though she always played. And I grew up admiring her for all she had done, but she didn't have the opportunity to get to go to college or things to like that to play a sport, which I have.
"My high school career was great. I mean, that's what got me into lacrosse. I didn't start playing until I got into high school, so with Title IX, I guess that helped me become the player I am today.
"I think that Title IX is a great thing, and I know that at one point they tried to get rid of Title IX, and I think that would've been the worst thing — especially for women and sports — because with Title IX, we get the opportunities that we didn't before. And it's growing everyday, especially right now. They're adding more Olympic sports and professional teams, and I hope lacrosse gets there one day. That would be great, and I just think overall, Title IX has done a lot for women."
— As told to Connor Letourneau