There is a lot of basketball going on these days. This time of year is a basketball lover’s dream. And Kansas is being well represented with the University of Kansas and Wichita State University men’s teams both in the Sweet 16. But those are not the only teams having a successful post-regular season run. Kansas State University women’s team is doing great in the NIT and KU is experiencing an amazing run through the NCAA by also making it to the Sweet 16 on the women’s side.
As someone who played college sports back in the early days I could not be more proud of the way women’s sports have blossomed since the passing of Title IX in 1972. This was the landmark legislation which prohibited sex discrimination in educational programs or activities receiving federal financial aid.
I played basketball and softball at the University of Kansas before Title IX and can assure you it was sorely needed. Before that the NCAA didn’t recognize women’s athletics and few colleges had women’s programs. However, Kansas and Kansas State were two that did and that was because of coaches like Marlene Mawson of KU and Judy Akers of Kansas State.
These women believed we deserved the opportunity to play athletics despite facing some incredible odds in establishing programs at their respective schools. They had little or no funding, they weren’t even paid for their coaching duties in those early years and they received little respect from the administrations or those leading the men’s programs.
One event stands out as a shining example of how little regard women athletes received from our male counterparts. In the middle of a game between Kansas and Kansas State the then men’s basketball coach, Jack Hartman, walked out on the court and told us to get off because the men needed to practice. Well, that didn’t sit very well with our coaches, who after a short discussion on the sidelines, walked out to mid-court to have a chat with Hartman.
I will never forget the image of those two opposing coaches standing shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed, telling the venerable Hartman that we would not be vacating the court for a men’s practice, since we were in the middle of a game and had reserved that time. Much arm waving and spirited discussion followed, but Mawson and Akers maintained their solidarity and held their ground. Finally a red-faced Hartman stomped off the court and our coaches turned to us, two groups of very confused and slightly frightened young women, and told us to get back out there and finish our game. Which we did — in the dark. You see, Hartman, failing to convince our coaches that we should stop, turned out all the lights.
The most ironic piece of this story is that in 1996, twenty-four years after Title IX was enacted, Jack Hartman coached the final seven games for the Kansas State women’s basketball team. And he did so with the lights on.