Not only did the passage of Title IX open a whole new world for girls to compete in high school sports, it also created new opportunities for females in the areas of coaching, administration and state high school associations.
As high schools began opening the doors for girls to compete in sports in the early 1970s, state associations began to hire female administrators to direct statewide events for girls. Looking back, there were several leaders in state association offices who played significant roles in the early growth of high school sports opportunities for girls – women who etched their names in history.
Seven of those individuals have been inducted into the NFHS’ National High School Hall of Fame, and any discussion about the history of girls high school sports in the United States has to start with the incomparable Ola Bundy of Illinois.
Known by many in the Midwest as the “First Lady of America’s Girls Interscholastic Athletics,” Bundy became the first state association female administrator when she joined the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) staff in August 1967. During her storied 30-year career, the late Bundy administered statewide events for girls in the sports of volleyball, track and field, tennis, bowling, badminton, golf, field hockey, swimming and gymnastics.
In addition, Bundy helped write the Illinois State Board of Education Sex Equity Rules, which are standards for all secondary schools in Illinois, and which have served as a model in many other states.
“No one in Illinois, and possible the country, did more to promote interscholastic athletic programs for high school girls than Ola Bundy,” said Marty Hickman, IHSA executive director who served on the administrative staff with Bundy during the latter years of her tenure. “She was a tireless fighter and advocate for young women. Ola led the crusade from participation in the Girls Athletic Association (GAA) to participation in a full-blown interscholastic program for high school girls in Illinois.
“We are proud to offer a wide variety of interscholastic programs for high school girls in Illinois; and while many deserve credit for where we are today, Ola will always be considered the valedictorian of the class.”
In the Western part of the United States, Sharon Wilch of Colorado was the early leader in the fight for girls sports. Wilch joined the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) staff in 1969, and was one of the first administrators in the nation to form a summit for state educators on how to effectively deal with equity issues.
During her outstanding 27-year career at the CHSAA, Wilch was involved in organizing and operating every sanctioned CHSAA activity. She also was involved with the U.S. Olympic Committee in the sports of gymnastics and swimming, and she was chair of the NFHS Girls Gymnastics Rules Committee for 15 years.
“My best memories of the 1970s were the hiring of women athletic directors, and more and more women replacing male coaches for girls sports,” Wilch said. “I was most proud of Colorado and its many females coaches ... I was also proud of the girls – now called athletes – and their improvement in performance and love of sport.”
Three other states beat the Title IX clock with the hiring of future Hall of Fame leaders – Dorothy McIntyre (1970) in Minnesota, the late Claudia Dodson (1971) in Virginia and Karen Kuhn (1971) in Wisconsin.
McIntyre’s remarkable 32-year career began in 1970 when the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) hired her to assist schools in developing girls sports programs. McIntyre was involved in tournament management for the sports of girls tennis, girls volleyball, girls basketball, and girls and boys track and field.
“The early pioneers who promoted bringing girls sports teams into the schools met with resistance, apathy and eventually some support,” McIntyre said. “In Minnesota, our hard work resulted in the MSHSL approving our recommendation that the League sponsor girls sports as they did for boys sports. That was in 1969 – well ahead of the passage of Title IX.
“I was hired in 1970 to help schools develop teams. The landscape was still pretty bare with a scattering of school teams experimenting with some competition in various sports around the state. So we continued working, expanding our efforts and encouraging schools to develop teams as quickly as they could.
“Our first state tournament for girls was track and field in 1972 – the year that Title IX was passed. Even Congress had no idea what it had passed would end up with a focus on equity in athletics and would change the face of sports by the end of the decade. I enjoyed each and every ‘first’ state tournament, but my favorite memory was watching the flag being raised at the very first MSHSL State Girls Basketball Tournament in 1976.”
Dodson joined the Virginia High School League (VHSL) in 1971 and was one of the nation’s recognized leaders for girls athletics during her 30-year career. Only a few schools in Virginia had organized sports when Dodson joined the VHSL staff, and there was only one sport in which girls could earn individual championships (gymnastics), but no team competition existed.
From that beginning, Dodson developed a statewide program that featured 32 state championships in 13 different sports for girls. She was the first woman to serve on the National Basketball Rules Committee for the NCAA, NAIA and NFHS. She also was the first woman to serve on the NFHS Basketball Rules Committee.
“Claudia Dodson stood at the forefront with a handful of state association administrators who were trailblazers in developing programs and opportunities that benefited hundreds of thousands of female athletes, coaches, athletic directors and officials,” said Ken Tilley, executive director of the VHSL. “We all owe Claudia Dodson and her colleagues a huge debt of gratitude for making a difference in so many lives. What an incredible legacy they have given us.”
Also in 1971, Karen Kuhn was helping to launch girls sports in Wisconsin. When she joined the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) in 1971, there were state meets for girls in swimming and diving, track and field, and gymnastics. Under Kuhn’s guidance, that number increased to 11.
“When I was hired in 1971, girls interscholastic sports were just getting started as state associations had changed their constitutions to allow girls sports,” Kuhn said. “Many schools, however, were critical of their state association for moving too quickly in organizing statewide competition. After five to 10 years with the help of Title IX, the programs arrived and continued to advance.
“My best memory from the 1970s was in May of 1976 when our WIAA Boys and Girls Track and Field Tournaments were combined.… This change allowed a field event coach, for example, to work with both the female and male shot putters – and these athletes to then cheer for all their competing classmates at meets. Female athletes were now being given the same recognition as their male counterparts.”
Two more Hall of Fame members made their appearances in state associations in the mid 1970s – Ruth Rehn in South Dakota (1974) and Sandy Scott in New York (1975).
Rehn championed the cause for 34 years in South Dakota until her retirement in 2008. She was responsible for the addition of basketball, volleyball, cross country and competitive cheer/dance as girls sports in South Dakota.
Rehn was a pioneer nationally with some of her statewide changes. South Dakota was the first state to experiment with the use of a smaller basketball for girls, which eventually was adopted at the national level. Rehn also led the way in volleyball by experimenting with the use of rally scoring and the libero player. She also assisted with the switch of seasons in girls basketball and girls volleyball in South Dakota.
Scott joined the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) in 1975 as an assistant director and then made history 15 years later when she became the first female in the nation to lead a state athletic/activity association on a full-time basis. Scott orchestrated the growth of athletics for high school boys and girls in New York, including increasing the fiscal control of state tournaments and the number of state championships that the NYSPHSAA offered.
Although they might not have had the national impact of the aforementioned seven leaders, five other women helped jump-start girls programs in their states in the early 1970s.
Patricia Roy, who served 27 years as an assistant commissioner with the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), started her work in 1972 and was a pioneer of girls athletics in the Hoosier state. As the IHSAA’s first director of girls athletics, Roy was the leader in the implementation of girls athletics programs in Indiana schools during the 1972-73 school year.
Bob Gardner, currently executive director of the NFHS, worked with Roy during his years with the IHSAA and saw first-hand her contributions to girls athletics programs.
“Pat Roy led Indiana into girls sports with passion, vision and courage,” Gardner said. “She often met resistance from those who did not want to share the stage with girls programs. She preserved and developed a sports program for girls that made a difference in the lives of thousands of young ladies.
“Pat stood courtside in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse when the doors opened for the first-ever Indiana Girls State Basketball Finals in 1976. She did not know if the girls would draw (a crowd). It did not take long for the answer. The seats started filling – the girls program had arrived. Pat Roy’s dedication paved the way.”
In Texas, Bonnie Northcutt was the early leader after her hiring by the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) in 1972.
“Bonnie was a role model, especially for girls and women,” said former UIL Executive Director Bill Farney. “She was a pioneer showing how effective women could be in positions like hers at a time when not many women across the U.S. held them.”
The late Dolores Billhardt was the early leader in Ohio. Billhardt joined the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) in 1971 and was instrumental in starting girls programs in field hockey, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball and softball. Nationally, she served on NFHS rules committees in softball, volleyball and basketball. She died in a tragic car accident in 1988 after 17 years on the OHSAA staff.
In Rhode Island, Alice Sullivan wore many hats while building the foundation for girls sports. She was a teacher and coach at East Providence High School, but she was the recognized expert on girls athletics across the state and helped the Rhode Island Interscholastic League implement statewide programs. In New Jersey, Flo Peragallo joined the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association in the early 1970s and served for 20 years.
On the other side of the country, Margaret Davis joined the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) – Southern Section in 1974 and is credited with the implementation of girls sports programs in that area of California. She later was associate executive director of the CIF state office and had a profound impact on girls sports during her tenure.
In addition, two other women helped start programs in Michigan and North Dakota in the early 1970s but had short tenures. Joan Warrington helped start programs for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, and Mary Anderson did the same with the North Dakota High School Activities Association.
In the second half of the 1970s, there were sevel others who joined state high school associations and played significant roles in developing programs for girls. They are Myrna Johns (1976) of Idaho, Cecelia Jackson (1976) of Florida, Suzanne Martin (1977) of Michigan, Virginia Yankoskie (1977) of Oregon, Mildred Ball (1977) of Indiana, Sheryl Solberg (1978) of North Dakota and Brigid DeVries (1979) of Kentucky.
And no review of the magnificent growth of girls high school sports would be complete without mention of the tremendous contributions at the national level by Susan True, who served as NFHS assistant director for 17 years and was the national leader in the sports of gymnastics, volleyball, field hockey, swimming and diving, water polo and spirit.
In addition to her work in the rules-writing area and with national governing bodies, True was instrumental in starting the NFHS Equity Committee, which helped to produce diversity on NFHS rules committees and throughout other NFHS programs.
While the passage of the law by Congress in 1972 opened the door for girls to play high school sports, those opportunities would not have been available without the tremendous efforts of these leaders – and others who followed in their footsteps – in state association offices.
Bruce Howard is director of publications and communications for the NFHS and editor of High School Today.