What were schoolgirls’ favorite sports in the bad old days before Title IX? Cheerleading and square dancing, declares the website titleix.info. “Only 1 in 27 girls played high school sports. There were virtually no college scholarships for female athletes. And female college athletes received only two percent of overall athletic budgets.”

Title IX, passed in 1972, provoked a mighty transformation. Back in the bad old days, as Perry Barber’s post on Title IX points out, girls and women were assumed to be too frail for (or uninterested in) strenuous sports.  Long-distance running? “Very questionable . . . an arduous activity would give you big legs, a mustache, hair on your chest, and your uterus would fall out,” Kathrine Switzer declares scornfully. But it was Switzer who faced scorn, five years before Title IX passed, when she dared to enter the all-male Boston Marathon. A woman running the Marathon! Outraged, a race director jumped down off his van and tried to tear her number off her shirt. Switzer’s boyfriend gave him a shove, and the two ran on. “I’m going to finish this race if I have to finish it on my hands and my knees,” she told her friend.  She finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes (not on her hands and knees), and all-male marathons around the country opened up to women.

Click above to see the attempt to toss Kathrine Switzer out of the Boston Marathon in 1967; on Makers.com

This week, the blogosphere resounded with earnest thanks from girls and women whose athletic ambitions blossomed under Title IX. One of those grateful beneficiaries is Jackie Joyner-Kersee, named by Sports Illustrated Women “the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.”

The track-and-field star was 10 when Title IX was signed into law. Born poor in East St. Louis, Illinois, she moved up through school sports and won a basketball scholarship to UCLA—just the sort of opportunity Title IX was written to provide for girls. Joyner-Kersee was to go on to win three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals over the course of four Summer Games—in the long jump and the heptathlon (seven track-and-field events).  Back in the day, she noted in a National Public Radio interview, “women could play sports, but they weren’t appreciated for their talent.” There’s a whole generation of players today who don’t appreciate the significance of Title IX, she lamented.  What’s the most significant virtue of Title IX?  It makes possible “all those grassroots programs from which state, national, and Olympic champions get their start.” And, the star emphasized, “we must continue to fight [to enforce the law], because women are always a step behind.”

 Click above to to watch bio on Jackie Joyner-Kersee at biography.com