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50th anniversary of Title IX celebrates women’s athletics — how far it has come, how far it has to go

Minneapolis fortunate to get Women's Final Four on 5oth anniversary of landmark ruling, but local athletes and activists say that equality in women's sports still has plenty of room to grow.

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A woman lays down and soaks in the atmosphere of the 3M Court of Dreams, which is covered with people's written dreams, at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Mall of America is hosting the 50th Anniversary of Title IX Celebration in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament being played this week in Minneapolis.
Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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When Wendy Blackshaw attended Hopkins High School in the mid-to-late 1970s, Title IX had been on the books for a few years but had yet to make a big impact. Blackshaw said the school “didn’t have a ton of teams” for girls, and if a girl was “really athletic,’’ she was a cheerleader.

And, yes, Blackshaw was a cheerleader.

Flash forward five decades and so much has changed in athletics for women. What has grown out of Title IX is a major reason why. The federal law, enacted on June 23, 1972, prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal funding.

Blackshaw is now president and chief executive officer for Minnesota Sports and Events, the organization that plays a key role in bringing marquee sporting events to the Twin Cities. The latest big event is the Women’s Final Four, which gets underway Friday night at the Target Center with South Carolina facing Louisville and defending national champion Stanford taking on 11-time champion Connecticut. The NCAA championship game is set for Sunday night.

When the Final Four was awarded to the Twin Cities in September 2018, it didn’t take Blackshaw long to spring into action.

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“It was one of those moments,” she said. “I was like, ‘My God, it’s the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Could we be any luckier than we are hosting that year?’ Like, 51 wouldn’t have had the same ring to it. … It was really like a middle-of-the-night idea where like, ‘Wow, we can celebrate this for the entire year.’ ”

Minnesota Sports and Events has been conducting 50th-anniversary events over the past year. And now, with the the marquee women’s college event being in the Twin Cities, things really have been ramped up.

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Vivian Morgan, 8, of Bloomington, Ill., a Louisville fan, writes down her dreams and places the paper on the 3M Court of Dreams at the Mall of America in Bloomington on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Morgan wrote "I'm going to be the best basketball player." The Mall of America is hosting the 50th Anniversary of Title IX Celebration in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament being played this week in Minneapolis.
Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Getting underway last Sunday and running through this Sunday is the Mall of America Title IX Celebration in Bloomington. The daily event schedule has included clinics put on by Minnesota Lynx players Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa; an appearance by former Woodbury High School and Bradley University basketball star Michelle Young, now best known for her appearances on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and performances with dancers and Minnesota team mascots.

There are games for visitors to play. On the wall in the Huntington Bank Rotunda is a lavish painting by Leeya Rose Jackson of 11 notable women from Minnesota who have benefitted from Title IX, including former basketball star and current University of Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen and Olympic cross country gold medalist Jessie Diggins.

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Owen Taylor, 8, from left, Presley Taylor, 6, and Natalie Rutz, 6, write down their dreams and place the papers on a wall at the 3M Court of Dreams at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Mall of America is hosting the 50th Anniversary of Title IX Celebration in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament being played this week in Minneapolis.
Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Most unique is the Court of Dreams in the mall’s North Atrium. Through the efforts of 3M, which used print and decorative films, there is an entire basketball court covered with submitted writings from Minnesota residents about what their dreams are. Many came from youngsters, who wrote sports-related things such as wanting to see “more women hold leadership positions in pro sports” and non-sports things such as “I want to be a marine biologist.” A wall next to the court is filled with Post-It notes, each of which features a visitor’s dreams.

“It was a special moment to have girls be able to sign this court and put what they want to do when they grow up and what their life’s aspirations are,” said Young, 28, now a fifth-grade teacher at Echo Park Elementary School in Burnsville. “And having signatures from my students on the court was incredibly special. You can feel inspired by just standing on the court.”

Young credited Title IX for her being able to play basketball in high school and earn a scholarship to Bradley. And so did Powers, a Detroit native who played at Michigan State.

“I feel very emotional because if it wasn’t for Title IX and the ladies that came before me, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Powers said.

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Still, there is plenty of room to grow. On conference calls Tuesday, coaches from three of the Final Four teams talked about that.

“It’s pretty cool,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, 51, a former University of Virginia and WNBA star, said of the 50th anniversary celebration. “Title IX provided opportunities for girls and women to have … the same opportunities as our male counterparts. We’re here 50 years later, but we still are not treated in the same manner. (It’s) 50 years and its impact has been pretty good. I think we’ve got room to grow, so hopefully 50 years later, we will be celebrating a more equitable impact on our sports.”

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, 68, who played basketball in high school and entered college before Title IX was enacted, echoed those thoughts.

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Stanford Cardinal guard Lacie Hull (24) talks with head coach Tara VanDerveer against the Texas Longhorns in the Spokane regional finals of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, Washington.
James Snook / USA Today Sports

“It’s great to recognize Title IX,” VanDerveer said. “Even after 50 years, I think we have to kind of keep the pedal to the metal. There’s still work to be done. It’s great that we’re recognizing it. … I think it will be nice when there’s not a need for it, that things are so equitable and fair that Title IX is a dinosaur.”

VanDerveer said what took place at last year’s NCAA tournament was “really painful.” Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Price posted a widely viewed video on social media showing players in the NCAA men’s tournament having a spacious weightlifting room with all sorts of equipment while those in the women’s tournament had nothing more than a small tower of hand weights. There were also social-media postings about how much more lavish the NCAA gift bags given to men in the tournament were as opposed to the ones provided to women.

NCAA President Mark Emmert later acknowledged that the NCAA “dropped the ball in supporting our women’s athletes.” And an NCAA External Equity Review was conducted by the outside law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink to study the issues and identify potential solutions.

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Sisters Natalie Rutz, 6, left, and Presley Taylor, 6, of Chicago write down their dreams and place the paper on the 3M Court of Dreams at the Mall of America in Bloomington on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Mall of America is hosting the 50th Anniversary of Title IX Celebration in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament being played this week in Minneapolis.
Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

For now, though, the Kaplan report, hasn’t satisfied Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who is looking to extend his record with a 12th national championship this weekend. He said he disagreed with the report’s suggestion to hold men’s and women’s Final Fours in the same city on the same weekend. And, he said, when it came to weight-room and “swag bag” situations, there is “talk about the dumbest things.”

Auriemma said a more important topic would be that Connecticut and Louisville play Friday after wrapping up Final Four berths Monday. Meanwhile, men’s teams don’t start the Final Four until Saturday after the last two regional finals were played last Sunday.

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“Why don’t you address things that actually help kids get ready to play their best basketball at the most important time of the year?” he said of the short turnaround for the women’s semifinal games.

For now, though, Blackshaw said there is plenty of celebrate with the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

“It’s been so popular, and we’ve had so much enthusiasm,” she said.

And Blackshaw couldn’t resist in noting that nearly a half century after she attended Hopkins High School when there weren’t many opportunities for female athletes, one of the marquee players at the Final Four is a fellow Hopkins grade. That would be Connecticut sophomore sensation Paige Bueckers, last year’s national player of the year.

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A wall of the 3M Court of Dreams is covered with people's dreams written on Post-It notes, at the Mall of America in Bloomington on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Mall of America is hosting the 50th Anniversary of Title IX Celebration in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament being played this week in Minneapolis.
Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

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