Title IX anniversary takes me back to my LSU days

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the accomplishments of many trailblazing women have been in the spotlight recently.

In her excellent piece in The Advocate this past Sunday, staff writer Robin Fambrough explained what the law meant to so many prominent women in sports in Louisiana – Hall of Fame high school volleyball coach Brenda LeBlanc, LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, softball coach Yvette Girouard (UL, LSU), and basketball player and coach Janice Walker Charles, to name just a few.

With most of the attention on women’s athletics as we celebrate this anniversary, it is important to note that Title IX does not specifically mention sports.

Signed into law on June 23, 1972, Title IX 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.”

As a woman and former college athlete, I have spent the past few days thinking about how the law has impacted my life. Without realizing it back then, I was blessed to spend my college days being coached by one of the true trailblazing Title IX proponents.

“In the year we celebrate the 50th year of Title IX and the 40th year of women’s sports joining the NCAA it is appropriate that we also celebrate a true trailblazer for women’s sports at LSU – Pat Newman,” LSU Hall of Fame gymnastics coach D-D Breaux said when Newman passed away earlier this year.

When Newman picked me up at the Baton Rouge airport in August 1978 and dropped me off at Graham Dormitory, I was just beginning my college tennis career at LSU. Little did I know that I was going to spend the next four years in the presence of one of the groundbreaking figures in women’s sports.

Newman, the first women’s tennis coach in LSU history, served in that capacity from 1973 to 1979 and led the Lady Tigers to a top 10 ranking by 1977 – the year LSU hosted the first AIAW national tennis championships.

For my first two years at LSU, I was coached by Newman, who was named Coordinator of Women’s Athletics in 1977 and eventually relinquished her coaching duties in 1980 to take over as Assistant Athletics Director.

Shreveport native Karen McCarter took over coaching duties for my junior year and Betty Sue Hagerman came to LSU to coach my senior year.

It was during my career at LSU that women’s sports joined the NCAA, moving us from the AIAW to the Southeastern Conference. Unfortunately, it took all the recent celebration of the 50-year anniversary of Title IX for me to realize what a big deal that was.

The fact that one of the early SEC women’s basketball tournaments and the AIAW regional volleyball championships were held on the Baton Rouge campus can be traced to Newman’s leadership and determination.

As the LSU tennis coach, Newman was 71-24, led her teams to three straight Louisiana AIAW Championships, and coached the first two singles All-America tennis players in LSU history in Shreveport’s Kay McDaniel and Ebie Taylor of Alabama.

I had the honor of playing with Taylor at LSU and grew up admiring McDaniel during my days of junior tennis in Shreveport.

The real honor, though, was being at LSU during the tenure of Pat Newman. I only wish I had appreciated it back then.

Contact Harriet at sbjharriet@gmail.com