In honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, my public radio station aired a story on the substantial improvement in girls’ and women’s sports since Title IX was enacted in 1972. As I listened, I distinctly recalled my own experience at the University of Michigan, where I started the women’s lacrosse team.
It was the mid-1980s, 13 years after the passage of Title IX, and I was a freshman at the University. An East Coast transplant living in the Midwest for the first time, I had spent my spring seasons playing high school girls’ lacrosse. So it was with some dismay when I fielded questions repeatedly about the wooden stick laced with leather straps that I carried around campus with me looking for a playmate.
After finding a critical mass of women who knew what my foreign object was and how to use it, my effort to start a team began. At the time there was a men’s club lacrosse team, so precedent for such an endeavor existed. The Athletic Department approved our application and gave us a modest sum of money and permission to use the turf late in the evening on a weeknight to practice. Each player paid dues, and we used the money to buy equipment and uniforms and rent vans to travel to our games.
I remember the long walk to the field down by the Intramural Sports Building on those chilly March nights. Being mindful of our safety on those dark, deserted streets, we would walk there and back as one large posse, carrying dangerous instruments we called lax sticks. On the field under the lights, after the men had their practice, we would run drills, condition and strategize for our upcoming games. We were a motley crew of University women, from freshmen to graduate students, all coming together under tough conditions for the love of lacrosse and the camaraderie of team sports. On the weekends we rented vans and drove ourselves three hours south to play other women’s college teams. Because there wasn’t one other lacrosse team in Michigan, when we wanted to compete closer to home, we played against the few suburban Detroit high schools that had girls’ lacrosse teams. Four years later, when I left Michigan, the team was growing in size and strength.
Those were the 1980s. Much has improved since that time — both at my beloved University and for female athletes around the country. Women athletes my age have stories much the same. As I look to my daughter’s generation of competitors, I am mindful of the past and encouraged by the course that has been set for the future.
Hillary B. Farber