Once on the back burner, now at the forefront

Nash+would+have+been+UTEP+women%E2%80%99s+basketball%E2%80%99s+senior+leader+on+the+court+in+2017%2C+instead%2C+she+found+herself+in+federal+court.

Michaela Roman

Nash would have been UTEP women’s basketball’s senior leader on the court in 2017, instead, she found herself in federal court.

Maria Esquinca, Staff Reporter

When Monica Lopez, senior kinesiology major and a member of the track team, practices on the track, she does so without the fear of persecution. She doesn’t have to worry about jumping the chain link metal fence that surrounds the track with the shadow of fear lingering over her. She doesn’t have to worry that the track coach will call the cops on her

for trespassing.

She is not a rarity defying a system of oppression, but rather she runs freely, unapologetically.

This was not always the case. Julie Levesque, senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator for UTEP athletics, recounted a story her college coach at California Polytechnic State University, Deanne Vochatzer, had told her when Levesque was a track athlete back in 1989.

“She would tell us stories about when she was our age, and she would have to jump the fence to be able to practice on the track because it was a men’s only team and the coach called the police on her while practicing for trespassing,” Levesque said. “That was probably like early ‘70s. Her dad would build her hurdles, they would put them over the fence so she could work out on the track.”

Vochatzer, who was bravely jumping the fence at Chicago State in 1971, would later go on to become a 1996 U.S. Olympic track coach.

It wasn’t until Title IX, of the Education Amendments of 1972, became a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs–that women’s athletics took a definitive turn. The law applies to federally funded education programs and covers all aspects of education.

According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, because of Title IX, “women and girls have benefited from more participation opportunities and more equitable facilities. Women who were under 10 when Title IX passed have much higher sports participation rates than women who grew up before Title IX.”

Before the ‘70s, women’s athletics were not a part of intercollegiate sports and were limited to club or intramural levels.

“They played intramurals, you played against each other within the school,” said Martha Lou Bradas, a 1960 UTEP alumna. “The opportunity wasn’t there. That just wasn’t a part of our life at that time. I’m so glad it’s (sports) become something girls are involved in now, I think it’s wonderful.”

Title IX is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, and in order to comply with the law, federally funded institutions must meet one of the criteria of a three-prong test that checks for accommodation of interests and facilities, athletic financial assistance and other benefits and opportunities.

The number of athletic teams must also be proportional to the ratio of the student body, so if an institution has a 50/50 female to male student population ratio, the number of athletic teams must match.

“I think it’s very important. It’s a good way to keep the balance,” Levesque said. “I think you need the balance to have an equitable department.”

According to the UTEP Encyclopedia, in October 1973, the university began offering women the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate sports. Basketball was one of the first eight women’s sports to be offered. However, it would not be until Title IX that the university provided more than minimal funding for the coaches, athletes and equipment.

Women’s basketball has come a long way since its humble beginnings, when practices were held in the women’s gym. Wayne Thornton, one of the students responsible for forming the first women’s basketball team, described the old gym as a building that had an ice-skating rink for a floor, no nets and beaten up walls, in an interview with the El Paso Times.

Since then, the team has boasted record-number attendance at the Don Haskins and has set or equaled 18 different single-season school records in their remarkable 2013-14 season.

“Title IX played a major role in requiring schools to provide scholarships for women’s programs throughout the country.  It was a law that changed the game for females,” said Keitha Adams, women’s head basketball coach.

While Levesque believes that equity would have been an inevitable achievement for women’s athletics, she does agree that Title IX helped bring that change more quickly.

As for the future of women’s athletics, the department is hoping to add another female athletic team.

“At some point, we’ll probably add a women’s sport. It could be–I would hope–within the next five years. I’m just trying to figure out which would be the best sport for us,” Levesque said. “Swimming and sand volleyball are the two that make the most sense, and both of them we don’t have facilities for.”

While Levesque believes that equity would have been an inevitable achievement for women’s athletics, she does agree that Title IX helped bring that change more quickly.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected]