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Title IX: Numbers Rising for Herd Women's Athletics

Marshall's Ashley Kroh (left) and Jessica Johnson made it all the way to national championship in 2004.

June 22, 2012

“Ample croquet grounds and daily walks under the supervision of Lady Teachers furnish opportunities for the exercise and recreation of female pupils.”

--Marshall College catalogues, 1875-81                   

By Jack Bogaczyk


HUNTINGTON – It’s painfully obvious women’s physical activity on the Marshall University campus has advanced way past those early years. You could even take a croquet mallet to the head repeatedly and realize that.

However, what is more germane with the subject at hand are the advancements that Thundering Herd women’s intercollegiate athletics have made since their introduction in the 1969-70 school year.

The 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s signing of Title IX legislation occurs Saturday – June 23, 1972. That section of the Education Amendments prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program receiving federal funding.

Women’s athletics haven’t been the same since.

For example, in the summer of 1972, when Title IX passed, there were 817,000 girls playing high school athletics. Twenty years ago, that number was 2 million. Today, it’s 3.2 million … talk about expanding the recruiting pool.

To be sure, titles have been elusive. The Herd women have played in only one NCAA Tournament in basketball, and were first-round losers to Colorado at Boulder. While there was some solid success in the Mid-American Conference, the only title the school has won in seven years in Conference USA was by volleyball, in 2005.

However, there are good numbers, too. Marshall has 10 NCAA sports programs, which is a respectable number. The 99 scholarships (fulltime equivalencies) in those sports means the Herd is fully funded. And in 2010-11, 228 Marshall women student-athletes competed in varsity sports (214 for the men).

Yet, the progress cannot stop, say key women who have been at the forefront in women’s sports at MU. One example is on the coaching sidelines. Marshall has 10 women’s sports, but only two of those – softball (Shonda Stanton) and golf (Meredith Knight Rowsey) – have women as head coaches.

“It’s not just here,” said Dr. Dot Hicks, the 82-year-old retired Marshall physical education professor who is considered the founder of women’s intercollegiate sports at Marshall. “It’s all over the country.”

Hicks cited a three-day Title IX symposium sponsored on the MU campus by the Women’s Studies program back in April. It included a panel discussion in which Hicks participated, and she asked the women in the audience – and a considerable number of Herd female student-athletes were attending – how many of them were interested in going into coaching.

“Only four or five hands went up among all of those young ladies saying they wanted to coach,” Hicks lamented. “So, the problem is that the women don’t want to coach, and we’ve somehow got to get that mindset changed a bit.

“We need you. The number of women head coaches (coaching women) has gone down from what was once 97 percent to 37 percent. Young women athletes, they want to go into the business world, they want to be young professionals, but we need them in coaching.”

This spring, Marshall hired two new head coaches for women’s programs – basketball and swimming and diving. Named were two men, Matt Daniel and Bill Tramel, respectively. They were the most qualified candidates in pools that included women finalists.

Hicks stopped by the Henderson Center office of Beatrice Crane Banford, MU’s associate athletic director for Olympic sports and senior women’s administrator, to congratulate Crane Banford on the hoops hire.

Crane Banford is headed toward her 16th school year as the Herd Senior Women’s Administrator in athletics. Since her arrival from Louisville, Marshall elevated women’s soccer from a club to intercollegiate sport (1998) and added women’s swimming and resuscitated golf in 2002-03. Those programs added 60 athletes at MU.

“Our budgets have increased dramatically,” Crane Banford said, “but the competition, since we joined conference USA, has increased dramatically, too. One of the things we have focused hard on is trying to make sure no women have to provide anything for their own participation, and I think we’ve accomplished that. I’m very proud of those things.”

From Year 1 to Year 3 since AD Mike Hamrick arrived back at his alma mater, the operations budget for women’s athletics has increased by $465,000, or 10 percent. The Herd’s operations budget for women’s sports was $5.411 million in 2011-12.

That doesn’t include another $217,000 expenditure in Hamrick’s years for locker room upgrades for women’s swimming, tennis and track and field, and $125,000 in improvements at the Dot Hicks Stadium for softball, including batting cages.

“We’re fully funded (in scholarships),” Crane Banford said. “That’s another thing we’ve accomplished, which is huge, and we’re fully funded to an out-of-state level. That’s important, because it allows our coaches to recruit and bring in any student-athlete we want, within the recruiting budget, of course.”

Crane Banford lists her personal thrill watching Herd women’s athletics in tennis, at the 2004 NCAA Tournament in Athens, Ga., when the doubles team of Jessica Johnson and Ashley Kroh upset their way to the national championship match. The Herd duo defeated teams from Cal, Michigan, Northwestern and New Mexico before falling to UCLA.

“I went down there and it seemed like I was about 10 months pregnant,” Crane Banford said. “I took one change of clothes, figuring I’d be back right away. My husband didn’t really want me to go, and I kept calling every day telling him I’d be back tomorrow.

“And we just kept winning, beating schools that Marshall had no reason to be competing against, much less beating in the NCAA. It’s the most proud I’ve been of our women in my time here. It was a big thrill.”

Crane Banford notices a difference in women’s sports even when she isn’t watching the Herd.

“You turn on the TV this time of year for last several years, and you can watch softball (College World Series and regionals),” Crane Banford said. “When I was in college (N.C. State) you could never dream you could see college softball on TV, and it gets good ratings. People follow it and know what’s going on.

“And men that I talk to outside of my job, they know who the top 25 teams are in women’s basketball. That never happened years ago.  It’s become something people enjoy versus when I started in the business. Women’s sports seemed to be something that people tolerated, and felt they were forced to fund or support.”

Crane Banford said any success of Marshall women’s teams brings out a new enthusiasm, too.

“I think Huntington is a unique town anyway, and the pride people have always had in anything Marshall does has made it special,” the Marshall SWA said. “I do think things have evolved to the point where people are much more interested and much more involved in knowing who our student-athletes are, where they’re from, what they’ve accomplished. That’s just a great thing, to be part of that emergence.”

Crane Banford acknowledges, however, that while celebrating the Title IX 40th anniversary brings a greater focus to women’s sports—and she appreciates that – the game is far from over.

“While I think it’s very important to recognize how far we have come, it’s also important to keep pushing,” she said. “The opportunities still aren’t there at the same level as for the men.

“We can’t become complacent, we can’t become too comfortable. Women’s athletics has made great strides, but we still have a long way to go.”