#FromtheArchives: Before Title IX, rural Iowa was a 'utopia' for girls in sports
In 1970, 20% of all girls playing high school sports in the United States were from Iowa!
Hi, friends! Happy Final Four day. In just a few hours on ESPN, we’ll get to watch Virginia Tech and LSU, followed by South Carolina and Iowa, face off for a spot in the national championship game, which will be played in Dallas, Texas and aired on ABC this Sunday afternoon.
I’m going to focus in on just one of those teams today: Iowa, which is back in the Final Four for the first time in 30 years, when the legendary C. Vivian Stringer coached them to the biggest stage in the sport.
Now, this is not another Caitlin Clark Coronation piece. Rather, I want to talk about the significance the state of Iowa has to the history of girls’ and women’s basketball, and sports in general.
First of all, if you’re not familiar with the history of six-on-six basketball in Iowa, I highly recommend that you check out this playlist with excerpts from a PBS documentary on the sport. There’s also this great ESPN article about six-on-six basketball that features Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen, whose grandmother was a six-on-six star.
Per that ESPN article and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 1970, 20% of all girls playing high school sports in the United States were from Iowa. That is remarkable.
It also brings us to the main crux of this newsletter, which is how that statistic came to be!
We’re going to be looking at an excerpt from a three-part series on women in sports published in Sports Illustrated by Bil Gilbert and Nancy Williamson in the spring of 1972 entitled, “Women are getting a raw deal.” I broke down the first article of that series back in December, and if you missed it, I highly recommend that you take a moment to check out that newsletter right now.
In honor of Iowa’s Final Four berth, I want to hone in on the latter half of the second article, which gives examples of cities and states all over the country that are providing next-to-zero resources, at best, to girls and women in sports.
But then Gilbert and Williamson contrast this with rural Iowa, which “surprisingly enough” offers “conclusive proof of the viability and rewards of female athletic equality.”
What follows was, to me, an absolutely FASCINATING dive into how Iowa made this happen. I had heard bits and pieces of this over the years, but loved reading about it in one place.
Here are the stats from the article, with the emphasis mine:
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