“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 …”
Title IX was never specifically about sports, but that is what made headlines.
I know well the effect it has had on sports. After all, I’m a beneficiary of the opportunities Title IX provided: I played three sports growing up, went to college on an athletic scholarship and have made a living both playing and covering golf.
I even focused on Title IX as the topic of a public-speaking class at the University of Washington.
Who better to speak on the impact and the benefits of Title IX, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on June 23, than me?
My mom, Caren Mackenzie (née Steinburg), graduated from college in 1974, just a few years too late to enjoy equal opportunities in sport.
She was the third of four children and the only girl among the siblings. She attended her first two years of high school in Waterville, Washington, a small farm town filled with Friday night cheers during football falls and squeaking sneakers during basketball season.
Her two older brothers were four-star athletes. The eldest, Bob, was a track standout, quarterback on the football team, and also played baseball and basketball. At 6-foot-5, he eventually played freshman basketball at Washington State under future Hall of Fame coach Judd Heathcote.
My uncle Dick, three years behind Bob, pushed to keep up. He excelled at football, baseball and basketball. He also played two years of junior-college basketball at Wenatchee Valley.
The youngest of the family was Ed. While he didn’t play anywhere collegiately, he did play varsity basketball and tennis in high school.
Ours has always been a sports family, dating back to my grandfather, Howard Steinburg, who had professional baseball aspirations before being drafted in the Army. After serving in WWII, he went into public education. He was the principal in Waterville and coached Dick and Bob on the baseball team.
My mom also had the competitive spirit – and the athletic ability. She used to shoot hoops with her brothers and, in her words, “I was a hell of a shot.” But after the family pickup games, she would go inside and help prepare dinner for the boys so they could eat before their official games. She made sure the meals weren’t too heavy, so they wouldn’t get sick on the court.
There were more empty echoes than cheers for my mom as there were no organized girls’ teams – in any sport – in Waterville.
After Dick graduated from high school, however, the family moved 30 miles to Cashmere, Washington. Here, my mom was finally able to participate in organized sports.
Two sports were available to girls at Cashmere High School: tennis and basketball. My mom chose both.
While she had never before played tennis, it was an opportunity, even though there was no state tournament for girls. Instead, my mom competed in school-sponsored regional events and a larger “invitational” at the end of the school year.
The coach assigned her to play in singles and doubles throughout the regular season, but when it came to post-season, she was moved to mixed doubles. The coach told her it was “because she wasn’t afraid to go the net.” In mixed doubles, boys often challenge the girl’s side of the court. Coach knew that my 5-foot-9 mom, who grew up with brothers and was aching for competition, would not be afraid of any challenge. Despite never playing tennis until her junior year, she finished second overall in mixed doubles, both as a junior and senior.
Even in basketball, the rules were different. Mom play “six-person” rules, meaning two players were on defense, two on offense and two roamed. Mom, of course, played both ends of the court. There was no championship at the end of the season. Instead, her team just played four or five others in the area, in a league called the Girls Athletic Association. Her brothers, meanwhile, played for district, regional and state titles. It was a different time; but not so long ago.
My mom has always jokingly claimed credit for the athletic success for both me and my brother, Brock, who also played professional golf. My dad was a collegiate swimmer at Washington State, so his genes helped, too. But he knows that it was only opportunity – not ability – that kept Mom from competing at a higher level.
Sports creates a lifetime of memories. Even as limited as they were, the joys and disappointments and friendships were so vivid in my mom’s storytelling. She only hesitated to answer one question.
It was the hardest question for her to answer: “What was it like to watch me?”
“For me,” she said after an emotional pause, “exciting. Just to see you have the chance … something I never had.”