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The City Journals

Hillcrest High: 50 years strong with Title IX

Jan 10, 2022 03:41PM ● By Julie Slama

In 1967, Hillcrest Marchioness formed the letter H to build school spirit. (Photo courtesy of Hillcrest High yearbook)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Opportunity.

Title IX, the landmark gender equity law that passed 50 years ago this June as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, gave females opportunity for equal education: to finish high school, to be awarded scholarships, to study at college, to enter careers beyond those of a secretary, nurse and teacher. It banned discrimination for federally funded programs. 

What is commonly regarded with Title IX, is sports, yet nowhere in the 37-word Code of Federal Regulations does it mention athletics: “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 National Federation of State High School Association reported in 2019, girls’ high school athletic participation reached an all-time high with 3.43 million opportunities for girls to compete. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, one in every five girls in the U.S. played sports in 2016; before Title IX passed, it was one in 27. 

Girls, unlike their grandmothers, who often were limited to drill, volleyball and basketball if they even had those opportunities, are now participating in everything from mountain biking to wrestling, the latter which completed its first season last year under Utah High School Activities Association.

Kathy Howa, who was a four-sport athlete at Hillcrest High in 1976-78, said the impact Title IX had on her was great.

“It was an experience that I was privileged to have,” she said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without school and having had the opportunity to play sports.”

Hillcrest High’s athletic program for girls was somewhat in place when Title IX passed, but not as it is today with more than a dozen club and sanctioned sports.

When the school opened in 1962, girls joined the Marchioness or “perfect marcher.” The team of 50 girls, advised by Dorothy Schmidt, were considered a pep club that “not only promoted school spirit, but established enthusiasm, respect and admiration for our new school,” according to Hillcrest’s yearbook. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s where they transitioned to more of a drill team.

In traditional sports, the school’s first female coach was appointed in 1973. 

Jane Miner, who was her early 20s and straight out of student teaching at Hillcrest, was hired to teach English. Three days later, she was called to Principal DelMar Schick’s office.

“He said, ‘We’re starting a girls’ athletic program and you’re in charge. I want it to be the best one in the state,’” she recalled. “That was just after Title IX had passed and the high school activities association had decided to start endorsing girls’ sports; up until then, it was illegal for girls to compete in sports in high schools.”

Before the passage of Title IX, Hillcrest’s program was like her experience as a high school student in Springville.

“We had a physical education teacher who said we don’t care what the law is, we’re going to have a team, so we played basketball, tennis and volleyball against some of the other schools,” said the 5-foot-3-inch former athlete. “The physical education teachers would set it up and coach, but we had to transport ourselves; we had to buy our own uniforms.”

The style of basketball, for example, started with six on six (three on offense and three on defense) and players couldn’t cross half court and they could only dribble three times “because we were thought to be so frail,” she mocked. 

Eventually, rules changed to two defenders, two on offense and two rovers who could dribble and cross the center line.

When UHSAA sanctioned girls’ basketball in 1975-76 it was five-on-five and Miner had a learning curve ahead of her.

“Here I am, in charge of this athletic program and I did not have any coaching experience, nor had I been allowed to learn how to be a coach. So, most of what I learned about coaching, I learned from the boys’ coaches. I would pick their brains and I would do my own research,” she said. “I’m a competitive person and I thought if I’m going to do this, we’re gonna win it.”

And Hillcrest did. In the early years following Title IX, the Huskies won state titles: in 1973 and 1975 in volleyball; in 1974 and 1975 in track and field; in 1976 in basketball; and several region softball titles (softball wasn’t yet sanctioned by the UHSAA).

“We were the team to beat for two or three or four years,” said Vicky Lundgren Dexter, who was a multi-sport athlete in 1974-76. “Back in those days, you could play volleyball and basketball and run track.”

Her teammate, Kaya Burns Le Prey played four sports. Le Prey, who was the point guard, was known for stealing the basketball and she remembered the women’s size ball hadn’t come into play yet.

“It wasn’t easy, because we were girls, to win the state championship,” Le Prey said. “You still have to win games; you still have to practice; and you still have to work hard.”  

Those championships were followed by Hillcrest’s three state titles in gymnastics in the 1980s and the drill team’s seven state titles between 1999 through 2016.

However, early on, even with winning, Miner recalled there was not much reported in the news.

“Nobody paid any attention to the girls; the papers, they never covered any of that. They didn’t think it was important,” she said. “We did something that nobody else had done, and nobody can take that away. We were the first state champions in volleyball, basketball and track and field and no one can ever match that.” 

Those championships came even as girls’ sports weren’t treated equally. 

They played in the “girls’” or auxiliary gym instead of the “boys’” or main gym. They didn’t have team locker rooms.

“There was no consideration—girls in the boys’ gym? Oh no, that ‘ain’t gonna happen.’ There was no reason for it,” Miner said. “We had to use the ‘girls’’ gym so I had to set up all the chairs, I had to clean the floor, the whole nine yards.”

That continued into second coach Jeanie Crickmore Wilson’s era, but in her last two years of coaching, the team was offered to play in the main gym.

“I told them at that point, ‘No, I don’t want to play in the main gym.’ You don’t have a home court advantage if you don’t play in the gym you’re practicing. If we had been able to practice in that gym, it would have been a different story,” she said.

Hillcrest’s principal at the time was DelMar Schick and he wanted to win.

“DelMar Schick was supportive, but it wasn’t necessarily that he loved girls’ sports, it’s just that he was really competitive. He thought if I’m going to do this, we’re going to beat everybody at it,” Miner said.

Transportation was provided, but their uniform choices were few. They first played in polyester top “starchies” which they joked could stand up on their own, then in the “pickle” or “watermelon” shorts sporting wide stripes of different colors of green. They played several different sports in the same uniform unlike the boys.

“We didn’t have as much funding as boys, but we did have funding. I never had to do a fundraiser for uniforms or buses or anything,” said Barbara Nielsen Barnett, who played three sports in the 1970s.

The path to gaining equality in sports wasn’t easy, Miner recalled.

“I remember one day, DelMar Schick and I, we were talking about Title IX budgets. I was trying to get more money for the girls, and he said to me, ‘You know, if we have to give the same amount of money to the girls that we give to the boys, there will be no sports.’ He got really scared when it came to giving more money to the girls. In his mind, it meant we have to take it away from the boys,” she said. “It was a lot of work and a lot of time, and you got a lot of push back from everything.”

Miner coached all the girls in traditional sports at the time except for gymnastics and swimming.

“I had no assistant coaches until the last year I was there. So, as they added sports, I had to coach all of them. Most of the time, I was coaching three sports at a time. I would have one team in the gym, I might have the tennis team out on the courts, and the softball team out on the field, all at the same time. I would rotate between all of them. I would be there until 7 o’clock at night. I was exhausted; I was coaching all these sports and I didn’t get paid for it. I was just doing it because I wanted these girls to have these opportunities that I never had,” she said, adding after teaching and coaching five years, she left Hillcrest to coach at Weber State University, and was later issued a check for $500 for coaching those years.

When Wilson was coaching, she remembered driving in the fact that girls’ athletics was here to stay by playing a prank on the principal.

“Marie Green (assistant coach) was hilarious; she got one of her friends from Brigham City to come down and pretend she was a Title IX activist with a briefcase, glasses and got in his office. (She talked about) girls not playing in the main gym, not having locker rooms and gave him a bunch of crap all day long. She scared the pants off him. At the end of the day, we went in and just started laughing and gave him a huge sucker,” Wilson said.

However, it provided her a platform to get everything she wanted. 

“That’s all I cared about. I swear DelMar Schick would have built me a new gym if I asked. We had so many things that other schools didn’t have because of him,” Wilson said.

As a player, Howa realized girls sports were still evolving.

“When I was in high school, it wasn’t equal obviously. We didn’t get to play (for a state title) in every sport,” Howa said and added she played softball one year and won region, but state wasn’t offered. “Softball was discontinued after my sophomore year; we didn’t even get to play it my junior and senior year. I don’t know why, but it was devastating, we loved it.” 

While some sports took longer to get established, Barnett believes it was because “it was a brand new thing: funding was always an issue, setting up scheduling, getting buildings, we just had to deal with the boys and now they had to get the girls in and get places.”

Miner said, “A lot of it was these definitions of what girls and women could do and what they should do, and softball was not a sport that they thought girls and women should be involved in. As I look back on it, it really was kind of dumb all the things they were stuck on and what they believed, and we were stuck with what they told us we could do. I fought it as much as I could, but I’m only one person.”

Even while coaching, Miner said she was reminded “you had to be a lady.”

That was the societal norm when these student-athletes were growing up as they didn’t have many female athletic role models or were unaware of them because of the lack of media coverage.

Dexter remembered her sports role models were UCLA coach John Wooden and Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo.

“Title IX was a big deal. Back then, it was right at our time. It was the start of college teams and the start of both women’s push in sports,” Dexter said, adding she was offered a scholarship at College of Eastern Utah, but turned it down and went to play for Brigham Young University.

Wilson said the movement gained momentum when Billie Jean King made headlines beating Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, and Wilson even got her autograph.

Miner said even now more improvement is needed.

“I look at girls’ sports today in the high school, and this is 50 years since Title IX, and they’re still not receiving the same opportunities as boys in coaching, in facilities and resources,” she said. “They’ve gotten much, much better, but it hasn’t been easy, and they’ve had to fight for everything because no matter what happens if push comes to shove, let’s say there’s a scheduling conflict of the use of the gym, the boys will always win.”

However Howa said it’s important to remember the early pioneers in women’s sports helped make a difference with Title IX.

“Women before me were fighting hard to make that happen for me and I was watching. It was coming out of the Billie Jean King-era starting with Title IX, and then the women of Utah, who…played a part in this Title IX. Those women paved the way for me to be able to play,” she said. “When you look at it from where it went from Bobby Socks (recreational league) to playing in high school and then getting a scholarship and getting to play in college, I’m grateful. The women before me, they didn’t get that chance. I got that chance. I watched it evolve and it was a privilege.”