Title IX 50th Anniversary

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“It’s truly a celebration. It’s a celebration for all the women that have been part of athletics and grown female athletics from the very beginning” said Former Neuqua Valley Athletic Director Barb Barrows.

50 Years Later

On June 23rd 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the law of the Education Amendments Act also known as Title IX. The legislation allowed males and females equal opportunities to compete in athletics. This is a milestone that played a huge impact on Women’s sports and has continued to evolve over the past 50 years.

As Naperville opened Neuqua Valley High School in 1997 to make way for a growing community, Barb Barrows was hired as the first athletic director for the Wildcats, setting the bar high for herself and others.

“I think when I was first starting to think about wanting to do this, I had a few people tell me, ‘Oh you don’t wanna do that. That’s too many hours or you’re gonna have a family.’ There were a lot of people telling me that I shouldn’t. To me that just brought up my determination that, yes I want it.  This is something I wanted for a longtime,” said Barrows.

Despite the initial passing of Title IX, it was still a slow process towards equality that Barrows saw first hand as a girls soccer and softball head coach at Waubonsie Valley in the 80’s and 90’s. She credits the tireless efforts of the female sport advocates that came before her.

“They definitely had to fight more or advocate for more participation, more opportunity, all the way down to uniforms and practice space etc. So as time has gone on that has gotten much better but I would definitely say that those people before me have to be congratulated for the time and effort that they put into it.”

Historic Accomplishments with Neuqua Valley

After becoming the Neuqua Valley AD, Barrows’ determination helped guide her as well as the athletes and coaches under her direction to embrace the opportunities that began from Title IX and continue today. Proving that she was more than up to the rigors of the position, Barrows helped the Wildcats earn over 180 Conference Championships and 11 State Championships in her 19 years on the job. When Barrows was first hired, she was one of only five female Athletic Directors in Illinois; today that number has climbed to over 100.

“And that’s a good thing. So that’s the progress that so many women before me and others were hoping for, that some day girls wouldn’t know that these opportunities were never available because the doors are wide open for so many right now to participate,” said Barrows.

“It’s like the reason why I’m able to play my sport today, like many people in the past, have given me this opportunity and fought for like women to have a chance to be able to participate in all these sports and, like it really just like changes my mindset on everything,” said Benet Academy Guard Lenee Beaumont.

Growing Numbers

In addition to the number of female Athletic Directors growing exponentially, there are now more female athletes and head coaches than ever before, throughout Illinois and the country as a whole. Over 140,000 female athletes now compete across over 18 IHSA sports.

Waubonsie Valley softball coach Valarie Wood has coached on the Warrior diamond for almost a decade and even played for the Green and Gold when she was in High School. She too has seen drastic improvements in opportunities and amenities since the start of her playing days.

“When I graduated from high school, softball really wasn’t a thing in colleges. Like they were sprinkled out around here that they had teams, but if you think about conferences like the SEC, The BIG 10, The BIG 12, they only had maybe three to four teams in the entire conference at the time that I was playing,” said Waubonsie Valley Softball Coach Valerie Wood.

“When I was playing we didn’t have dugouts and I know the baseball team at Waubonsie had dugouts and we didn’t have dugouts,” Said Wood.
Now as the leader of the Warrior program, the team has dugouts, new uniforms and top tier equipment that allows coaches like Wood to pass on the life lessons that make high school athletics so valuable.
“It’s more than just playing the game. Like it’s about making those connections with other people. Playing a sport that you might not have played before. You know, just doing something that’s more than yourself, and you learn about teamwork, you learn about leadership, you learn about perseverance just getting through those games,” said Wood.

Thanks to Title IX, so many outstanding athletes have been able to thrive as part of Naperville area programs. From Naperville Central standout turned WNBA MVP Candance Parker, to Waubonsie Valley track star and Olympic Gold Medalist Morolake Akinosun, or the ever growing number of local girls soccer players now competing in the professional ranks. They were able to capitalize on previously unavailable opportunities, and have left a legacy that current athletes are striving to follow on and off the field.

“We get to show women who we are and not let people underestimate us. We get to show how much potential we have other than them looking down at us. So we can show them how strong we are and stuff like that,” said Metea Valley Soccer Player Jordan Lange.

“I think it’s just great to see that people aren’t afraid to make those jumps and like to know that they’re capable of doing the same stuff as everyone else can do. And like you said, like the jobs with the broadcasting stuff like that’s possibly something I wanna do in the future. So just being able to know that I could do that is awesome,” said Beaumont.

Improvements to Come

Despite 50 years of growth, everyone involved knows that improvements are still necessary.

“Where can this go? Where do we need to keep growing? Yes, there has been great increases and great improvement and many will say at a slow rate. But keep it in perspective there has been great change and we want to keep moving forward with that. We wanna put great role models in front of all of our athletes,” said Barrows.

By continuing to move forward, all women in sports can look towards fifty more successful years of progress.

Naperville News 17 Patrick Codo Reports.