Lil Shelton discovered them tucked away in a cardboard box, on a dusty shelf in her old office last week at Severna Park High. Inside the box was a musty pile of girls athletic uniforms, circa 1973.
Oh, the memories.
"All three of the school's girls teams wore those same uniforms back then. They just passed [the outfits] around, from season to season, from volleyball to basketball to softball," Shelton said. "They were heavy, one-piece cotton uniforms, with zippers up the back and navy-blue mandarin [stand-up] collars. And shorts! Can you imagine those girls sliding into second base, in shorts?"
Clearly, the time was ripe for change.
Gender equity legislation reformed high school and college athletics 40 years ago Saturday, with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. And while pioneers such as Shelton applaud the long-term effects of the landmark bill, which triggered the boom in girls' participation in high school sports from 300,000 to 3 million plus, she acknowledged that change didn't happen overnight. Or in a month. Or a year.
"Oh, no," said Shelton, who retired this year after 39 years at Severna Park — the last 37 as field hockey coach. "We [girls] do have a lot more than we had, but ... has it equaled out yet?"
For years, she and other female coaches wrestled with school and county officials to adhere to Title IX. Facilities were a sore point.
"There was nowhere for the girls to play softball, so the seniors drove their cars, filled with our equipment, to the Cypress Creek rec area, a mile from school," Shelton said. "That's where we practiced and played."
That venue was better than some, she said.
"The softball field at Annapolis had a big ditch between second and third base that the girls had to jump over. I was afraid that they'd hurt their ankles."
Three years after the passage of Title IX, progress remained agonizingly slow. Male mindsets played catch-up, at best.
"When I started the hockey program in 1975 (the first of its kind in Anne Arundel County), the boys soccer and football teams took up most of the fields," Shelton said. "So we practiced on the front lawn of the school, where the flagpoles are. The field was cut short by a magnolia tree at one end. And when the balls bounced into Robinson Road, I had to go out there, hold up my hand and stop traffic."
Shelton's hockey teams went on to win 20 state and 29 county titles. Her record? 546 victories, 60 losses and 10 ties. She coached her daughter, Lorie Hankins, in softball at Severna Park, and her granddaughter, Alison Hankins, in hockey.
To that end, The Baltimore Sun asked the women — three generations of athletes from one family — to share their thoughts on the impact that the legislation has had on them.
"In the fall of 1973, I was hired to be the [only] girls physical education teacher at Severna Park High School. It was a thrill to have my own classes, and we began to assemble equipment and space to work in. We were assigned to a small back area, called the girls gym, as the boys classes met in the main gym. As time went by, the girls became anxious to be involved in varsity sports like volleyball, basketball and softball.
"Title IX had just been implemented in 1972, so we thought we could expand our program to involve all our girls. We had begun field hockey in PE class, and with so much enthusiasm over it, we added that in the fall of 1975 to our varsity program. We were the only school in Anne Arundel County with field hockey, but the following fall, other teams were added.
"The girls sports program began to develop, but outdoor space was a big problem, as the boys' football and soccer required much of the fields. Still, we had much enthusiasm and dedication and later added lacrosse and soccer.
Title IX was the catalyst to get things started, but the coaches at the schools provided the major push to get the girls the county and state championship banners that adorn the gym walls in schools all over the county."
"Title IX? I didn't understand it until I was taking classes for an education degree in college. But Title IX provided me with opportunities in high school that I wouldn't have had otherwise. It taught me the meaning of "team," hard work, reaching a goal, and never quitting — all of the values you learn from participating on a sports team.
"In the spring of 1973, I tried out for the first softball team at Severna Park. I made it and was given a uniform.They were left over from years past, found in a closet and given to the girls' teams to share.
"The following year, we got new uniforms. Each of the three girls teams still used the SAME top, but it came with both shorts and longer pants, for softball.
"We didn't have a softball field, so we hoofed it to Cypress Creek Park for a year. That was our "home" field! The next two years, we were given a field that backed up to the boys' backstop — so, as a second baseman, I had to be very aware of foul pop-ups from the boys.
"We had a blast, played our hearts out and paved the way for future girls. In the 1973 Severna Park yearbook, the girl voted "most athletic" was a cheerleader! By the time I graduated in 1975, there were girls on the tennis, gymnastics and track teams. We were pioneers. We were no longer relegated to being just managers of boys teams or cheerleaders.
"Was it equal? No, and as a parent of a girl, it's still not equal — but what a huge step in the right direction."
"As a child of the late 1980s, when I entered second grade and stepped onto the field hockey field, I thought things had always been that way. As far as I was concerned, every girl before me had the same opportunity to play all the sports that I was presented with. It wasn't until one day when my Mema and mom told me about sports in their time that I realized how lucky I was.
"I couldn't believe that Mema had had no opportunities to play sports, and that Mom had had limited ones. Because of Title IX, I have had the opportunity to play all the sports I wanted to. The only reason I got to play my favorite sport [field hockey] was because of Title IX. Green Hornets [Severna Park's youth sports program] had to put field hockey into place to make the number of girls and boys sports equal. Title IX gave girls opportunities to play sports, and my Mema reinforced it in our hometown.
"Spending time on the sports field, from second grade up through Severna Park High, was a
part of my growing up. Sports taught me how to make friends, cooperate and get along with others, and work as a part of a team. Sports are a huge part of what made me who I am today, and they have made me successful. Without Title IX and the girls before me, I might have missed out on these opportunities."
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
"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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."