In the past half century, no action has transformed college sports more profoundly than the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, signed into law by Richard Nixon.
Title IX, which barred sex discrimination in education programs and activities offered by entities receiving federal financial assistance, has had wide applications protecting the rights of individuals to equal access to higher education programs.
Within a few years, the law’s most visible impact came on athletic fields and arenas at colleges and universities across the nation, from Division-I powerhouses to D-III liberal arts institutions. Over the past five decades, Title IX has transformed the landscape of athletics and empowered new generations of women to reach their full potential.
In 1970, OWU offered six women’s varsity sports. By the end of the decade, new teams were participating in intercollegiate softball (1974) and indoor and outdoor track and field (1977), with cross country (1981), and women’s soccer (1984) soon to join the mix.
Today, 196 women compete in 12 different varsity sports.
Diane “Dee Dee” Manos ’76 began her athletic career at OWU in 1972, the same year that Title IX was enacted.
“In my era, women didn’t earn athletic letters. It was only a few years ago that OWU decided to retroactively give us our letters,” she says. “We didn’t have uniforms. Ours were all recycled, but now these athletes have uniforms that belong to them.”
Manos found success in athletics on the All-Buckeye Field Hockey Association team and as a Great Lakes field hockey finalist. She continues to foster her love of sports as OWU’s volunteer assistant field hockey coach, where she delights at how women’s athletics has changed.
“It’s important that we remember this history of where we’ve been and where we’re going. A lot of athletes now 30 | OWU may not know where women’s athletics was and what we had to deal with. Even now, when you know things aren’t as good as they should be, you realize it’s better than it was.”
Like Manos, Athletics Director Doug Zipp says Title IX has had a profound impact on women’s athletics.
“When Title IX passed in 1972, only one out of every 25 women participated in sports. Now, nearly two out of every five women participate in sports activities, and that number continues to grow every year,” Zipp says. “We have a long way to go, but we continue to evaluate our programs through the lens of Title IX as we consider offerings in the athletic department.”
Former OWU women’s golf coach Jana Shipley was a track and field standout at Ohio State University in the 1970s, setting a school record in the outdoor pentathlon. She also once held the world indoor and outdoor records in the women’s pole vault. She came to OWU as the head women’s track and field coach in 1980 and helped found OWU’s first women’s cross-country team. She says student-athletes began seeing the biggest changes in the 1980s.
“Colleges across the country began offering women opportunities in athletics. We started getting more of the benefits that had previously only been provided to male students,” she says. “Women today have the opportunities that they have because Title IX is in effect.”
At that time, Ohio Wesleyan became a leader in creating the conference-wide structure for equality for women’s athletics.
In 1981, longtime OWU coach, administrator, and faculty member Mary Parker cofounded the Centennial Athletic Conference, the first conference in the nation formed specifically for women’s teams.
Two years later, OWU left the Centennial Athletic Conference and Ohio Athletic Conference to become a founding member of the North Coast Atlantic Conference. The NCAC was the first conference to treat men’s and women’s sports equally from its inception. Competition began in the 1984-85 academic year.
Head Volleyball Coach and Senior Women’s Administrator Kirsta Cobb says competing in sports can change how women view the world and themselves.
“In the world, women are told to shrink themselves. In sports, we get to be the biggest version of ourselves, and do it proudly. We develop a different view of ourselves,” Cobb says. “We get to be competitive and be leaders, and we do it with other amazing women. It’s more transformational than just looking to win. It’s about leading ourselves and our gender forward.”
Captain Juliann Althoff ’91 agrees, “Sports have played a huge part in my life, not only in college, but beyond.” Althoff was OWU’s first woman twosport All-American (swimming and high jump) and is now a chief medical officer at the Naval Medical Research Unit in Dayton. And she continues to compete with the Navy track and field team.
“It’s helped me become the person I am today and contributed to my success as a naval officer through building foundational life skills.”
“Young athletes should follow their passion and know the sky’s the limit,” she advises. “A lot of barriers have been broken down recently. In the Navy, women can fly combat aircrafts or be on combat ships. Things that weren’t possible when I began my career are now options.”
Rachel Seibel ’10, a two-time NCAC Pitcher of the Year, is thriving in a career in the growing sports industry. After 10 years of work with the New York Mets and the NBA, she recently returned to Ohio to continue her career in business development at Ohio State Sports Properties.
“On one hand, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years. On the other hand, it’s only been 50 years,” Seibel says. “I’m optimistic and grateful for the work that’s been done, but we still have a long way to go, and we need to keep the work up.”
Soccer Academic All-American Dr. Sarah Wall ’06 acknowledges the massive success of Title IX while also seeing opportunities to make athletics more inclusive.
“We’re in a new era now when LGBTQ and non-binary athletes are trusting others with publicly being themselves, but our framework for sport is often not inclusive. I hope that women athletes who benefit, or previously benefited, from Title IX will be advocates and partners for creating an equal space that includes transgender and non-binary athletes.”
Wall joined the women’s soccer team in the middle of what would become a 60-game winning streak, and as a first-year student was named NCAC Offensive Player of the Year as the Bishops won their second consecutive national championship.
She compares the shared responsibility of team sports with the family feel of being part of the larger OWU athletic community.
“Being an OWU graduate makes you a member of a small but very supportive family,” she says. “So many of us played sports at OWU, and there’s a mutual respect across teams, men and women.”
By Sarah Jonassen ’22