By Ferd Lewis
Wherever girls and women spike a volleyball, kick a soccer ball, dribble a basketball or take part in organized sports in the United States this week, it would be altogether fitting if they could take a moment to remember Patsy Mink.
For whether they know it or not and the significance of her ground-breaking contribution has unfortunately been lost on too many athletes the Hawai'i congresswoman, who died yesterday at age 74, was instrumental in giving girls and women many of the sports opportunities now taken for granted.
Until Mink and another congresswoman, Edith Green of Oregon, authored a key section of what would eventually become Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and then saw it through several years of floor fights, the concept of wide-ranging athletic opportunities for females was but the twinkle in the eye of a few dreamers.
Even Mink, who initially envisioned Title IX more in terms of the academic doors it would open on campus, never imagined the revolutionary impact it would have on sports and society.
Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational opportunities based on sex at institutions receiving federal funds, not only empowered two generations of athletes at the high school and college levels, but left its mark on Olympic and pro sports.
The Women's World Cup triumph that caught the nation's imagination in 1999 and domination of Olympic basketball and other sports by the U. S. had their foundation in the careers that Title IX opened for high school and college athletes.
Today, as you turn on a television and watch the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team perform before a large crowd or see women's professional basketball and soccer, women's athletics has become a rich part of the sporting landscape.
But in 1972, when Mink was a member of the U. S. House Education and Labor Committee, the only woman with an athletic scholarship among 8,245 female undergraduates at the University of Hawai'i was the drum majorette. Among the $1 million UH spent on athletics, just $5,000 went to women's club sports. In that, UH was probably representative of the picture nationwide.
Now, UH fields and funds to the total of about $4 million 11 women's teams. Nationally, high school participation by girls has increased nearly tenfold. College participation has grown almost five times. College scholarships awarded to women this year nationally were worth $180 million and parity is drawing closer. In addition, women have found increased opportunities in coaching, administration and the media.
"It (Title IX) has changed the way athletics and society in general has viewed women in sports," said Marilyn Moniz-Kaho'ohanohano, who played volleyball at UH in the 1970s and is the school's senior women's administrator.
For Mink, Title IX would have roots in her own frustrations. Believing she was turned down for medical school and kept from fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a doctor because of her gender, Mink never forgot the disappointment.
It would be those memories and the wish they not be repeated on succeeding generations that drove her to get Title IX passed.
"We didn't think that much about sports at the time," Mink would say after the 1999 Women's World Cup Championship. "We were looking more at the educational opportunities fellowships, scholarships, opportunities to get into graduate school and vocational education. But, in the long haul, the most dramatic results have come in the field of athletics."
And, for that, today's athletes in large part have Mink to thank.