Title IX Lets Girls Be Both Quarterback and Homecoming Queen
FlaglerLive | December 13, 2012
By Peggy Jones
One of the well-established traditions of high school is the quarterback also being crowned as royalty on the homecoming court. But when it’s the homecoming QUEEN title that the quarterback earns, the occasion is historic.
So it was for the Erin DiMeglio, Florida’s history-making student-athlete. Not only did Erin become the first female in Florida to play quarterback in a varsity high school game, but she also was elected South Plantation High School’s homecoming queen.
As I pondered Erin’s amazing autumn, and reflected on my own athletic youth, it occurred to me that the real history lesson in her football season is this: It wasn’t news that a girl was playing high school football – just that she was playing the sport’s most elite position.
That’s because over the past 17 Florida high school football seasons, 523 varsity roster spots have been filled by girls, an average of more than 30 per year. And none of them would have been given the chance if not for Title IX, the landmark legislation assuring females the same opportunities as boys at both the high school and college levels.
Title IX is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. How far we have come in such a short time.
I view this progress from a unique perspective: When I was in high school I was a pretty good athlete, but there were no scholarship opportunities for me in the sports in which I excelled – volleyball and track.
We had the Girls Athletic Association, essentially intramurals, but not interscholastic competition. But now, as part of the leadership team of Florida’s official sanctioning body for high school athletics, I get a first-hand look at how much the landscape has improved for female athletes in our state.
In 1973, the first year after Title IX became law, fewer than 10,500 girls participated in Florida high school athletics, and they were confined to just six sports: swimming and diving, girls basketball, track and field, tennis, gymnastics and golf. They represented fewer than 17 percent of all high school athletes.
Last school year, almost 110,000 high school girls participated in sports. And the participation has grown well beyond the original six sports to now include mainstays like soccer, softball and volleyball but also such activities as bowling, competitive cheerleading, cross country, flag football, lacrosse and water polo – and even weightlifting and wrestling. In the past decade, 102 girls have played high school baseball, on boys’ teams.
And, of course, there is football, where 36 girls competed on their high school football teams last school year.
It’s now possible to become both quarterback and homecoming queen.
Girls now make up 49.4 percent of Florida’s high school student enrollment but only 42 percent of participants in sports sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association. We have not yet achieved full parity but it’s so much better than the 1970s, when girls made up just 31.1 percent of high school athletes.
Those who missed out on the benefits of Title IX can take comfort in knowing what the federal legislation made possible for those who followed. For me, that meant seeing my daughter earn an academic/athletic scholarship and play soccer at Florida Institute of Technology.
And for everyone, it means a world in which girls and boys get to compete on a level playing field. And sometimes, as in the case of Erin DiMeglio, it’s literally on the same field.
Dr. Peggy Jones is Associate Executive Director for Administrative Services for the Florida High School Athletic Association. She is a former principal at Sebastian River High School in Indian River County and also served for five years as an educator in Illinois, where she coached soccer, volleyball and track in the Waterman School District.