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Defining Female Athleticism: Early Days of Post Title IX



Since the ratification of Title IX in the Education Act in 1972, the rivalry between the AIAW and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was intensified. While the former banned athletic scholarships, formulated restrictions on recruiting[1], suppressed too high of a level of competition[2], fought for equity in funding and recognition of women’s athletics, and strived to maintain its independence in running its own athletic programs, the latter “reconsidered its decision to ban women from its championships in 1972”, out of the fear that the action might have violated women’s rights under Title IX[3]. The male-dominated NCAA was also not impressed with AIAW’s attitude towards sports[4]. Furthermore, the NCAA was widely recognized as the largest athletic organization in the country[5]. For that reason, the organization’s board of directors believed that if women’s national championships were to be implemented, NCAA should be the legitimate and the only governing body of all college sports, including female athletics. Therefore, the pragmatic NCAA leadership came up with a two-part strategy: first to attempt to overturn Title IX, which was viewed as a major threat from the perspective of the organization, and if that failed, to take over women’s programs and dilute the AIAW[6].


1976 Jan The Middlebury Campus Cover Page Title IX
The 1976 January Issue of the Middlebury Campus: its cover page was a cartoon illustration of Title IX.


Middlebury was, arguably, a victim in this tug-of-war. 1974 was the first year that the women Panther ski team was allowed to participate in the National Championships sponsored by the AIAW. However, in order to compete, schools had to join the organization, and the then Athletic Director Dick Coleman missed the deadline. Terry Aldrich, the Ski Team head coach at the time, recalled, “Middlebury College took the AIAW to court, and our lawyers got involved.  It came to the Addison County Court House, and the decision was made out of court that Middlebury would be allowed to compete, but only as individuals, not as a team.  So, the Middlebury women that year went to the national championship in Stowe and they won.  As a team they would have won all four events, and had a score that would have won the entire meet by a landslide.  But we couldn’t win it because we weren’t allowed to compete as a team.  And, at the banquet…I think Janice Lang, who was the meet director, mentioned that Middlebury couldn’t compete as a team but had done very well, and the whole banquet – everyone in the banquet’s floor – stood up and applauded the Middlebury team, and I’ll never forget that.”


The 1974 Women's Ski Team

The 1974 Women’s Ski Team: the “national champions”.


In the meantime, with the push of the “national running and jogging craze of the 1970s and 1980s” as well as the introduction of new sports like soccer and squash, the College established another batch of women’s varsity teams, including cross-country (1975), track (1975), squash (1976), basketball (1977), soccer (1979), and ice hockey (1981)[7]. The women’s rugby club and riding club were also assembled in the 1980s[8].


Women's Basketball 1981- Middlebury in white

A Player on the Women’s Basketball Team Played Defense, 1981.

Ellen Star '81 from the Women's Ice Hockey Team and Then Assistant Coach Duke Nelson

Ellen Star ’81 from the Women’s Ice Hockey Team and the Team’s Assistant Coach Duke Nelson, who was the Head Coach of Men’s Hockey.


In 1978, the federal district court in Washington, DC dismissed NCAA’s appeal to subvert Title IX. According to Richard Davies, after the lack of success in court case, “the opportunistic Walter Byers, the first executive director of NCAA, offered a large range of championships for women at the Division II and III levels in 1981 and in Division I in 1982” and also “induced AIAW members to switch to the NCAA by including women in its new national basketball television contract and by offering to accept transfers from AIAW-affiliated schools by waiving membership fees”[9]. The AIAW, with limited financial resources, staked its capital on a lawsuit against the NCAA for alleged antitrust violations[10] and illegal monopoly power over college sports[11]. Eventually, the case was dismissed in 1982 and AIAW was not able to make a comeback since then.


1976 February The Middlebury Campus NCAA vs AIAW (cropped)
The Middlebury Campus 1976 February Issue on the NCAA and AIAW.


In the midst of the dogfight between NCAA and AIAW, the field hockey team had undefeated seasons in 1968, 1971, 1973, and only lost one game during the seasons in ‘69, ‘70, ‘74, ’75, ’76, and ’78. That was only the onset of the Lady Panthers’ remarkable athletic accomplishments, as the Middlebury Women Ski Team did itself justice and stood at the top of the podium at the National Championships in 1979 and 1980. The 1979 squad became Middlebury’s first ever National Champion team. This was a remarkable and momentous milestone in Middlebury’s athletic history, and specifically, in the history of women’s sports at the College. The success of individual and outstanding athletes should not be overlooked either. In 1986, Dorcas Den-Hartog ’87 won the NCAA Division III women’s cross-country championships.


The 1979 Women's Ski Team - National Champions!

The 1979 Women’s Ski Team Had Unparalleled Success.


The 1979 Women’s Ski Team: the first ever Middlebury National Champion Team.


Athletic facilities for women improved slightly under the helm of coach Mary Lick. In 1973, with the “small addition of women’s office and locker space to the Memorial Field House”, sportswomen at Middlebury finally gained access to athletic facilities on campus other than the McCullough Gymnasium[12]. A new athletic director, Tom Lawson, was appointed in 1977 (he retired from the position in 1996). In the same year, coach Missy Foote (now Associate Athletic Director, Senior Women Administrator, Director of Physical Education, and Head Women’s Lacrosse), was hired to coach the newly established teams of women’s lacrosse and intramural sailing, and later on swimming, basketball and field hockey as well.


Tom Lawson, the newly appointed AD

Tom Lawson, the newly appointed Athletic Director.


In the academic year 1981-1982, according to David Stameshkin, four new practice fields were designed to give women and men more equal facilities because the trustees were concerned that the college was not in compliance with Title IX. Yet the betterment was not enough to alleviate the gap between the men’s and women’s programs. In the 1980s, some students thought that the college should have more women coaches and female athletes deserved to enjoy facilities that male athletes had[1]. These concerns underlay the subsequent insistent complaints made by captains of women’s teams to Tom Lawson in 1988.


1976 Nov The Middlebury Campus Erica Wonnacott

Erica Wonnacott, Middlebury’s First Dean of Students, wrote about Title IX and
Sex Discrimination on the 1976 November Edition of the Middlebury Campus.









[1] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.17

[2] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.22

[3] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.19

[4] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.22

[5] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.21

[6] Davies, “Sports in American Life – A History: College Sports in the Modern Era”, p. 267

[7] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.278, 279, 281

[8] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.281

[9] Davies, “Sports in American Life – A History: College Sports in the Modern Era”, p. 267

[10] Davies, “Sports in American Life – A History: College Sports in the Modern Era”, p. 267

[11] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.30

[12] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.282

[13] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.282





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