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Let Them Play: Title IX, Sports, and Gender Equality


Friday November 11, 2022: 10:00am to Friday January 20, 2023: 8:00pm


Downtown Library: 2nd Floor Exhibit


Girls wearing baseball hats & gloves cheer on teammates from sidelines
Girls Play In Ann Arbor Recreation Department's Baseball League, July 1973

In 1972 the passage of Title IX empowered American women and girls to participate in competitive sports. Before Title IX, female athletes in Ann Arbor only played in recreational or intramural leagues. But in the 1970s, trailblazing young women joined boys’ teams and pushed high schools and colleges to develop women’s varsity programs. When they encountered resistance, like tennis duo Cindy Morris and Emily Barrett, they took their cases to the courts.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed under the Education Amendments of 1972. The law prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded schools and educational programs. It also protects against sexual harassment. The law states,

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

The federal deadline for schools to adjust to the standards of Title IX was 1978. Ann Arbor was ahead of the curve. Athletes and coaches paved the way by founding competitive women’s sports clubs. Interscholastic girls’ sports began in 1969 at Pioneer and Huron High Schools. Girls’ varsity teams began competing in 1972. In 1974 the city required public schools to offer co-ed physical education classes. Before and after the passage of Title IX, lawyers represented female athletes in discrimination cases. Victories in the court of law led to more equal opportunities for women and girls in sports.

The fight continues decades after Title IX. Ongoing issues locally and nationwide range from defining sex-based discrimination to securing funding. Women’s athletic programs often receive less funding and less desirable schedules and facilities than men’s programs. Another topic of debate is whether Title IX should protect the rights of transgender athletes to compete. This exhibit celebrates the local athletes, coaches, and advocates who fought for gender equality in sports over the past fifty years.