(Blog) Our President Shares Her Memories as a Pre-Title IX Athlete

June 24, 2022
USCHS President Jane Campbell wearing her letterman’s jacket at Michigan Stadium alongside her brothers

On June 23, the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Congressional legislation that guarantees women the right to equal educational opportunities in schools or programs that receive federal funding. To recognize this important occasion, we interviewed our President and CEO, Jane L. Campbell, who was a multisport athlete before Title IX in high school, and a multisport athlete at the University of Michigan shortly after Title IX’s passage. During this conversation, she reflected on the discrimination that she and her female teammates faced in high school and college and what Title IX means to her as a woman and a mother.

USCHS President Jane Campbell wearing her letterman’s jacket at Michigan Stadium alongside her brothers

USCHS President Jane Campbell wearing her letterman’s jacket at Michigan Stadium alongside her brothers

USCHS: To begin, tell us about your first experiences playing sports, pre-Title IX.

Jane Campbell: Well, when I was in high school, the Ohio High School Athletic Association did not permit girls to keep score because it would not be good for us to be competitive. The coaches were the gym teachers who did it as volunteers after school. And we knew that there were other schools that also had girls’ teams and we were allowed to have them over for cookies. So, we would bake cookies and brownies, and then we would have them over and we would play a game. We were not supposed to keep score. Well, of course we did, but we weren’t supposed to.

USCHS: How were you coached if the purpose was not to win the game?

Jane Campbell: Well, the coaches, of course, believed the purpose was to win the game. It was just that those were not the rules. So, there were no standings, there was no audience, there were no rankings, the school didn’t invest any money in it. It was an all-volunteer operation.

USCHS: So, from your perspective, how did this reflect the nation’s more general attitude toward women?

Jane Campbell: Well, we were supposed to be in our place, right? We should not be competitive. We should not be engaged in the action of sports or anything else. It was a different time.

USCHS: What was your motivation, then, in playing sports? Can you provide more detail of your athletic experiences?

Jane Campbell: I graduated from high school in 1971 and I played volleyball, basketball, synchronized swimming, and field hockey. So, there was something all year round and my teammates were my friends. I loved the action and being involved. We had a good time. We also played basketball. But when I started playing basketball, girls played six players on a team. Three were defenders who only played on one side of the court, and three were offensive players who only played on the other side of the court—because girls weren’t supposed to run the whole court. That would not be good for us. So, I was a defender and I was a very good defender. You could not get past me to get a basket. But I couldn’t shoot hardly at all. When I was a senior in high school, they went down to five players. So, the girls could then play the full court. And I lost my spot on the team because I couldn’t shoot. So that was the end of that.

USCHS: At the time, did it strike you as offensive that on television, you watched men play five on five full court, but as a woman, you were forced to play three on three half court?

Jane Campbell: It just seemed absurd to us that we weren’t allowed to run the full court because we could run just as well as anybody else. It was just silly. We weren’t allowed to be competitive. The only swimming we were allowed to do was synchronized swimming, which is water ballet. We weren’t allowed to do racing, competitive swimming. That was only for the boys. But we were allowed to be their timers. And so, we were swim timers and we had to literally make—as in sew—little culottes in our school colors, which were red and white, with red and white fishes on them. And then we stood at the edge of the pool and ran the stopwatches to keep the time for the boys.

USCHS: At any point, did you or your teammates protest?

Jane Campbell: We complained all the time. Like why? When there was a game we wanted to play, to get a bus was very difficult. We had to pay money to get a bus. So, we complained about it, but it wasn’t like we had a rally about it. We just thought, “this is absurd.”

USCHS President Jane Campbell (left) lettered in synchronized swimming at the University of Michigan

USCHS President Jane Campbell (left) lettered in synchronized swimming at the University of Michigan

USCHS: In 1972, President Nixon signs Title IX. Do you remember that debate in Congress?

Jane Campbell: Oh yeah. So, there was a whole big debate that we were going to have equal access to sports. But as you know, having something pass in Congress is not the same thing as going through the process of the rule making before anything can get implemented. I graduated from college before it was done. I graduated in 1974 and I think the first Title IX team at the University of Michigan began in 1974. And it was a girls’ basketball team. But by then I was just doing synchronized swimming. I started out doing field hockey and synchronized swimming, but it was very hard to do two sports. But field hockey was particularly difficult because when I was in college, meals were served during certain hours in the dorms. But the only time they let us use the fields to practice was during the time that meals were served in the dorm. It was then that the boys wouldn’t be using the field because they had to eat now.

USCHS: So how did you eat and practice?

Jane Campbell: We ended up having to buy food because we couldn’t eat at the dorm because we wouldn’t get back until the food service was closed down. So, we had to buy our own food.

USCHS: How often did you practice?

Jane Campbell: We practiced two or three times a week.

USCHS: So, two or three times a week, as a college student, you had to spend money on entire meals that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you were male?

Jane Campbell: Exactly. So, we practiced on the grass fields, but then we played our game in Michigan Stadium, which was ridiculous because there were like four people there.

USCHS: And at the time, there was about a 105,000-person capacity in the stadium.

Jane Campbell: That’s right. The other thing is that they had just started what they called AstroTurf. The way that they drained it was for the field to have a slight curvature. I played left wing and this round ball started going, because of the curvature, very fast. So, you’d be running like a banshee or rooster to try to catch up to this ball and it would just go out of bounds all the time. So, overall, it was not so much fun.

USCHS: You were a college athlete after the passage of Title IX, but before its implementation. Did you sense any resentment from anyone on campus, whether it was male athletes or coaches, or even fans who might have viewed women’s sports as now inhibiting the future prospect of male sports?

USCHS President Jane Campbell and fellow pre-Title IX University of Michigan female athletes receive their varsity letter

USCHS CEO Jane Campbell and fellow pre-Title IX University of Michigan female athletes receive their varsity letter

Jane Campbell: You know, it hadn’t gotten that far yet because nothing was really given to the women at that point. The Michigan football coach, Bo Schembechler, wanted to make sure that women did not get the block M letter. They had no letters, nothing. But years later, when I was mayor of Cleveland, I got a fundraising letter from the athletic department at the University of Michigan, saying “Dear Michigan letter winner,” you know, blah, blah, send money to the athletic department. And I wrote them back and I said, I would feel entirely different if I had ever gotten a letter. I am not sending you any money, not happening.

Well, Michigan had its first woman president. Mary Sue Coleman, who came to see me. She was doing fundraising in Cleveland. And so, I was a distinguished alumnus. I was the mayor of Cleveland. So, she came and was talking to me about the university, which I do love dearly. But I told her this story. So, she went back and talked to the athletic department and it turns out they had records that went back years of women who had participated, who would have been letter winners, had the sports been recognized. And so, in 2006, they got in contact with this whole list of women and they said, “we’re going to give you a letter.”

They invited us to a football game and they gave us a framed block M letter that acknowledged our participation and had us run out onto the field and people cheered. I was among the youngest because I was in the last cohort of non-lettered athletes. So, there were much older ladies there as well.

Meanwhile, there was this group of women who had been athletes immediately after Title IX who had found out about this event. When they competed, they got real letters, though they were still a different shade of maize than what the men received. They were also told that they couldn’t have letterman jackets with leather sleeves. Apparently leather sleeves is the it thing for a letterman jacket. Instead, they gave them some kind of alternative leather jackets that didn’t have real leather sleeves. So, they said we want this. And they had a whole big uprising of maybe 10 years where this went on. So, the athletic department decided that they would give letterman jackets to that whole group with real leather sleeves and a block M with the appropriate shade of maize. Then they decided, if they were going do that, they would offer letterman jackets to all us ladies from the pre-Title IX era. They had a big event where they invited us back to campus. This, by now, is 2015.

They brought us onto the field, introduced us one by one, and we were also allowed to bring our family members. My brothers both went to Michigan, so they and everybody else came out and you could run across the field and try to hit the “M Club Supports You” banner that the football team touches before every home game.

USCHS: You have two daughters. What were the discernible differences between their experiences growing up, playing sports, and yours?

Jane Campbell: They had the support of the high school. They had uniforms that had their names on them. There were standings, there was an organized schedule, they had buses to the away games. There were state tournaments that were sanctioned. There was a state all-star team. There was recruiting from colleges with scholarship opportunities. But it was also just the small things, like at the game, they played the Star-Spangled Banner. It was an official game.

USCHS: What is the importance of Title IX? What is the importance of female athletics?

Jane Campbell: I think you learn a lot in athletics. You learn a lot about teamwork. You learn a lot about winning and losing and picking yourself up after you’ve lost and being ready to take on the next adventure. You learn a lot about relying on people. If you’re going to pass the ball, you want to make sure that somebody’s there to catch it. And the catcher is as important as the passer and it takes an effort to make things happen.

The other thing is that people talk about Title IX in terms of athletics, because that is the most visible change. But Title IX was a law that requires that educational opportunities have to be equally provided to men and women across the country. So that also meant, for instance, that scholarships for study abroad or fellowships have to be offered equally.

So, Title IX is about more than just athletics. It’s about every educational opportunity that we want our daughters to have so they can grow and succeed.