Opportunities abound

Now 40 years old, Title IX has opened doors for female athletes
Dec. 11, 2012 @ 12:16 AM

This time last year, Morgan McGee and Maddie McCallie were in the process of turning very solid PAC-6 basketball careers into college scholarships.

Forty years ago, their transitions wouldn't have seemed so certain.

This year has included celebrations highlighting the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation aimed at achieving a relative balance in athletics for females.

That fairness quotient includes requirements that colleges and universities provide equal opportunities in athletics for both men and women, and those sports outlets must be funded at equitable levels.

It's the sort of thing that today's younger female athletes could overlook.

Just as McGee and McCallie never have known a world without cellphones, so too have they always had plenty of opportunities to play basketball.

McGee, a freshman at Wingate University, about 30 miles east of Charlotte, said it never occurred to her that she wouldn't at least have a shot at playing college basketball.

“I never had that idea,” McGee said. “No, I couldn't imagine, because I've been playing AAU since I was 9 years old.”

McGee is 5-11 and powerfully built, so the size was there for college hoops, and she coupled that with skill that attracted Wingate, where she has started seven of the team's first nine game, averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds each time out.

During her senior year at Hillside High School, McGee was getting 13 points a game like she is now. Recruiters certainly knew who she was.

“We get as much exposure to college coaches as the boys,” McGee said, adding that she and her Hillside teammates had access to the weight room just like the boys. “We get fair treatment.”

McGee last season was co-PAC-6 Player of the Year with McCallie, who has gotten floor time in eight of the nine games Miami University (Ohio) has played this season.

McCallie, averaging 2.4 points per game, scored 15 points on Nov. 12 against Northern Kentucky. She averaged 20.7 points a game at Riverside High School, knowing Title IX would keep her on the court.

”It has greatly impacted my life, both directly and indirectly. My mom started playing and earned her scholarship around the time Title IX began,” said McCallie, the daughter of Duke women’s basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie. “It really made her believe women had the same opportunities as men. As for me, I learned from her and became committed to earning a scholarship, knowing all the opportunities I could create. I am very thankful for it."

Seven decades ago, Missouri Arledge Morris was graduating from McGee’s would-be alma mater, back when there was no Title IX and young ladies' futures in athletics weren't as clear.

Things were very different before Title IX became law in 1972, when cheerleading was the main deal when it came to females participating in sports in college, according to a California-based organization that goes by the name Title IX.

There was a time before Title IX when girls participating in high school sports was rare, and line items for female sports in college budgets were considered good at two-percent allotments, according to the Title IX organization.

The first women’s college basketball game was played behind locked doors at Smith College, back in 1902, and no guys were allowed inside to watch the game, according to the NCAA.

It was nine years after Title IX came online when the NCAA started administering women’s sports, and when that 1981-82 season ended, Louisiana Tech University had beaten Cheney University of Pennsylvania to capture first NCAA women’s basketball championship.

During that season, there were 74,239 female student-athletes on 4,776 teams, compared to 169,800 male student-athletes on 6,843 teams, according to the NCAA.

The NCAA's latest count totaled 191,131 female student-athletes on 9,746 teams, and 252,946 male student-athletes on 8,568 teams.

There was no Title IX for Morris when she was at Hillside in the 1950s, but she had a mean mid-range game.

"I could shoot that ball," Morris said.

Morris also had a Hillside coach named Carl "Bear" Easterling.

"He told me in the eighth grade if I would play basketball," Morris said, "he would help me to get a scholarship to college -- this was to black schools, because we couldn't go to the white schools."

Easterling delivered. Morris said she received 12 scholarship offers, choosing Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark.

"That one was the farthest one away from home," Morris said of what she saw as an opportunity "to see the world, to get away from this area and see what was going on on the other side of the country."

Morris, who lives in Durham, talked fondly about becoming the first black female player to be named an all-American.

But it wasn't all about sports for Morris, who after two years gave up her scholarship and transferred to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, now Tuskegee University.

There were no sports scholarships at Tuskegee, not even for the men, said Morris, who earned her keep as a student secretary in the physical-education department.

When it was time to play ball, Morris said she and her Tuskegee teammates put on hand-me-down uniforms from the men's squad, and the gear sometimes was mismatched.

"We had to use uniforms until they fell off of us," Morris said. "We had to buy our own shoes.

“We didn't feel that we were missing out on anything. We didn't know about teams having funds for uniforms and for equipment and for training. We didn't know that."

Priority was given to Tuskegee's men's team, but that was OK, Morris said.

"We just felt that it was a privilege to be able to play, more than anything," said Morris, who became a schoolteacher.  

Ingrid Wicker-McCree was 5 years old when Title IX became law, and she said she started playing sports the year before colleges had to comply with the legislation.

Wicker-McCree said there weren't a lot of black girls playing volleyball when she got into the sport in eighth grade. She did it to help her jumping ability for basketball.

But Wicker-McCree was so good in volleyball that she earned a scholarship to play the sport at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where her roommate was the first female at the school to get a full athletics scholarship.

“I was part of something huge back then,” Wicker McCree said, talking about Title IX. “I was right there in the mix in those '80s when it was growing.”

Wicker-McCree, who graduated from Jordan High School, is the athletics director at N.C. Central University. She said Title IX helped her make it happen. 

“Without Title IX, without the NCAA – their support of Title IX – no, I would not have been in this position,” Wicker-McCree said. “It took me basically 14 years to be in the right place at the right time.”

Wicker-McCree played a season of professional volleyball in Puerto Rico before becoming N.C. A&T State University's first full-time volleyball coach in 1982. She was NCCU's second head volleyball coach, and then she started coaching the school's softball team before rising through the ranks in NCCU's athletics administration.

There's been some hate from the old guard who don't care to have NCCU's sports run by a woman, Wicker-McCree said.

“It is a male-dominated environment,” Wicker-McCree said. “Once you realize that and accept that, it's easier to handle. I do understand some of the old-school thought. It's out there, but I embrace it.”

Title IX has created more opportunities for females of color to participate in athletics, particularly sports other than basketball and track and field, Wicker-McCree said. Organizations such as The First Tee, for example, have gotten minority youths into golf, and more and more black girls are giving soccer, volleyball, field hockey and lacrosse a try, Wicker-McCree said.

What's lagging is the percentage of black women in athletics administration, Wicker-McCree said.

“Those numbers are very dismal, still, for women of color,” Wicker-McCree said.

Morris still picks up the basketball when her grandkids come over, perhaps showing them what might have been had the WNBA been around when she was in her prime.

"I would  have loved that; I would have loved that," Morris said about playing pro ball in a league.

Morris said she actually turned down an offer to get paid to play, snubbing the opportunity to go down in history as the first female Harlem Globetrotter and instead opting to become the first in her family to graduate from college.

"I had to turn them down. They really made me a good offer. They said my mama could travel with me," Morris said. "The money was good, and all. I wanted to graduate from college.

"I met a nice man in college and got married and had three children. They're doing well.”

Morris' son, Cliff Morris, made North Carolina's basketball team under Dean Smith as a walk-on from 1983-85. She said Cliff's job was to put some defense on Michael Jordan during practice.

"All of that came from basketball, me being able to go to school," Morris said about how her life turned out. "Even without Title IX, we were able to excel.”

That's not to knock Title IX, Morris said.

"I think had Title IX been around, a lot of girls could have benefited,” Morris said.

Morris said she had good teammates at Hillside, but she got all of the attention because she was such a dynamic scorer.

"I scored, like, 50-something points a game," Morris said. "I don't know if people understand it, but they didn't choose but one person to give credit to."

There just weren't enough resources back then to give a lot of young ladies a lot of opportunities in sports.

Title IX changed that.