Athletic leaders reflect on 50th anniversary of Title IX

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, creating and enforcing equal opportunities for women across the nation’s college campuses. 

Few sectors of higher education have benefited as greatly as women’s athletics. 

Before Title IX, fewer than 32,000 women participated in collegiate athletics and fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school athletics. Fifty years later, more than 200,000 women are playing college sports and more than 3 million girls play high school sports. 

At Grand Valley, Joan Boand was the strongest advocate for women’s athletics, joining the university as an assistant professor in the physical education department in 1966. Boand, who died in January at the age of 88, quickly set about to establish women’s athletics on a young Grand Valley campus, said Pat Baker-Grzyb, one of her former players.

“I look at the Grand Valley women’s programs and Joan started them all, she was fighting for female athletes,” said Pat Baker-Grzyb, an inaugural member of Grand Valley’s Sports Hall of Fame. “Grand Valley was one of the first to have scholarships, and Joan fought for those.”

Fifty years later, women’s athletics has made tremendous gains, and as  Women’s History Month draws to a close, Grand Valley’s past and current athletic leaders reflect on the achievements made and the advancements yet to come. 

Keri Becker

Grand Valley Director of Athletics Keri Becker poses for a photo
As Grand Valley's director of athletics, Keri Becker is leading the athletic program's mission to provide an equitable and inclusive environment for student athletes.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

Becker vividly remembers her first experience with inequity on a playing field.  

“My twin brother could play T-ball two years before I could,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to play with boys. I had to get older. I remember being so angry, just not understanding.”

As Grand Valley’s director of athletics, Becker is leading the athletic program’s mission to provide an equitable and inclusive environment for all student athletes. 

Becker has been in the athletic department since 2011, taking the athletic director position in 2016. 

Of the 18 athletic programs she oversees, 11 are women’s teams that have won 20 national championships since 2005. 

“I have a sense of responsibility and opportunity today to make sure women after me can stand on my shoulders and understand how far we’ve yet to go, and be an advocate for themselves, team and at all levels.”

One of those responsibilities includes serving as chair of the Boand & Rowe Endowment for Advancement of Women in Sport/Physical Activity Committee. 

The endowment provides funding for students with a dedication for advancing girls and women in sport and physical activity as part of their studies at Grand Valley. The fund supports a scholarship and a leadership development award for students to attend conferences, workshops or to help fund research opportunities.

“Now I’m in a place to meet the network of women whose shoulders we’ve been standing on and can appreciate the battles that were fought,” she said.

Pat Baker-Grzyb

Former women's basketball coach Pat Baker-Grzyb talks with players
Pat Baker-Grzyb was one of the first female student athletes at Grand Valley, later coaching the women's basketball team for 17 seasons.
Image Credit: Athletic Department

Baker-Grzyb was there through Title IX’s infancy. A member of Grand Valley’s early basketball, volleyball and softball teams from 1971-75, she recalled how little funding was available for women’s athletics.

“Looking back, we had our own T-shirts and shorts, and just slapped a number on the back,” she said. “It’s amazing how far it’s come for female athletes.”

After graduation, Baker-Grzyb became a coach, leading the women’s basketball program for 17 seasons and the softball team for seven seasons. Her perspective on Title IX changed as well when she became a coach, she said.

“When you move into a coaching position, you’re going to fight for your student athletes to get more opportunities, better equipment and better facilities,” Baker-Grzyb said. 

For all the gains women’s athletics have made in her lifetime, Baker-Grzyb said the fight is ongoing for equitable representation and opportunities.

“I think female athletes and their coaches are still fighting,” she said. “We’re fighting on all levels for equality, and it’s going to continue to build, transition and move forward.”

Callie Youngman

Assistant volleyball coach Callie Youngman poses for a photo
Assistant volleyball coach Callie Youngman sees Title IX with a different viewpoint as a coach versus her days as a student athlete playing basketball and volleyball at Northern Michigan.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

As a child, Callie Youngman read stories of inspiring female athletic stars like tennis’ Billie Jean King and legendary Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summit. 

“It definitely gave me a rich understanding of the history and the shoulders that I’ve been standing on as a player,” Youngman said. “Grand Valley has a long, storied history when it comes to being on the front edge of Title IX efforts and the investment in girls and women and sports.”

She sees Title IX with a different viewpoint these days as a coach versus her days as a student athlete playing basketball and volleyball at Northern Michigan.

“I have settled into understanding myself as someone who needs to continue to carry the torch,” said Youngman. “My lane in this work for the last 14 years has been how do we use some of the tools we gained through Title IX to provide more inclusion, more opportunity, break down more of those barriers to entry into sport.”

Title IX’s successes have also created a blind spot in inclusion and equity at some institutions however. Women of color and the LGBT community are being limited in their opportunities that others don’t face, said Youngman.

“When you look at who are the greatest beneficiaries of Title IX, it’s white women and those students who were already attending well-funded schools,” she said. 

“We’re starting to figure out how to level the playing field for LGBT students, but we have a long way to go to figure out how to best provide access to students who don’t go to a well-funded district and account for some of the barriers that non-white students face.”

Hannah Beatus

Softball player Hannah Beatus smiles for a photo
Student athlete Hannah Beatus would like to work in sports administration following graduation.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

To current student athletes, like softball player Hannah Beatus, Title IX means creating more opportunities for representation, inclusion and equity.

Beatus would like to pursue a career in sports administration, particularly at a university. She’s shadowed administrators in the Grand Valley’s athletic department and marvels at the female leadership guiding the Lakers.

“It’s great to see the representation in athletic offices and with coaches,” said Beatus. 

Title IX’s 50 years have set a solid foundation, but for the current generation, there’s room for additional progress. 

“Trends are always evolving, and there’s always room for improvement,” said Beatus. “I’d definitely like to see more representation of women in power positions like athletic directors and head coaches.”