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Title IX's legacy beyond sports
40th anniversary of anti-discrimination law sees Akron's women softball players excelling on and off the field

Kabir Bhatia
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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Though sports aren’t even mentioned in Title IX, 40 years later its legacy includes a professional softball team in Akron. And as WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports, the women on the Akron Racers are reflecting on how athletics have shaped their lives.
Title IX's legacy beyond sports

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Just over a thousand people came to Firestone Stadium in Akron last weekend, about a quarter more than the number that usually shows up for a women’s professional softball game. And the crowd was passionate.

The Racers – a team of 20-somethings -- were hosting the Chicago Bandits in the Racers’ last home-stand for almost a month.

They also were marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that banned sex discrimination in federally funded schools and colleges. The 1972 law opened the door to sports -- and collegiate athletic scholarships -- for young women, something team owner Joey Arrietta could not even imagine growing up.

“When I was growing yup, I couldn’t play. I loved sports, wanted to… there were no organized sports at all. Not at the high school level, not in summer. So I missed out pretty much on all of that.”

But instead, she played when she could, eventually getting a master’s in education from the University of Akron, where she also spent almost three decades coaching the softball. She retired in 2000, a year after the Akron Racers debuted.

Racers and Title IX
Now, some 15 women are paid up to 15-thousand dollars to play four-dozen games each summer. 

Pitcher Kristina Thorson studied public health at the University of California at Berkeley, and says Title IX made it possible.

“I was able to use softball to get me into arguably the best public institution in the country. Not that my grades were bad, but being an out-of-state student trying to get into Berkeley is [nearly impossible]. So I was able to use softball as a way to get into that school and get a great education that I’m gonna use as soon as I’m done playing softball.”

Not just a financial edge
Team owner Arrietta says the mental edge has helped shape women both in the batter’s box and in the boardroom.

“If you strike out, OK. You go back to the bench and you gotta figure out how to get back into the game the next day. That’s life. A saleswoman who’s going out and making calls; she’s competing. The values that are being taught on the diamond are things that are transferable to life. We all live in a society where we have to get along with a lot of diverse people. You bring different skills to the table. Well, that’s pretty much a team. But I think the benefit has been much broader than athletics and sports.”

The drive in many of the women playing for the Akron Racers seems innate.

Life without Title IX
With or without Title IX, the women cannot fathom life without athletics. But pitcher Jennifer Mineau tries.

“I would imagine if I lived in a world without Title IX, I probably be married at this point. That would probably still be the society that we’re living in. And right now – it’s probably about noon? I’d probably be making a grilled cheese for my one-and-a-half child[ren].”

Mineau says playing sports not only helped her get a degree in visual arts at Fordham, it shaped her personality.

“I’m an only child so it definitely allowed me to socialize a bit, which was nice. I’m from way out in the country where we didn’t have neighbors. So sports was, oftentimes, one of my only forms of seeing people. It definitely taught me how to communicate and cooperate. Sort of take control of my own situation.”

Still, Mineau acknowledges that while having the opportunity is key, not everyone is ready for a career playing pro ball.

“It’s tragic, but girls drop out of sports at twice the frequency of boys. I think it’s just important that we really encourage them to stick with sports. If they hate it when they’re 14, [then] let them quit. But when they’re younger I think it’s great to keep kids in sports.”

Personal side of sports
Putting aside the character-building, the physical benefits and the financial advantages stemming from Title IX, players like Kelley Montalvo say they’re happy to be able to play a game they love, professionally. But the Floridian transplant has a more personal reason for playing.

“My senior year of college, my Mom [was diagnosed with] breast cancer. And it was a rough time. There were times that I just wanted to quit and go back home. And the first thing she told me was ‘No. You have stay, you play for your team, and play every game for me.’ And ever since I was like, ‘That’s it. That’s what we’re doing.’ Seeing her go through that, I feel like I can do anything. If she can overcome such a disease that can take over your life, I can get through a practice that’s tiring or anything that’s hard in my life.”

Montalvo is not the only player whose family has been touched by the disease, and the Akron Racers have a continuous “Bucks for Breast Cancer” fundraiser in conjunction with Akron General Hospital. And they’re set to top the 100-thousand dollar mark this year. Without Title IX, those dollars -- and the team -- might not even exist.

The Akron Racers return home on July 19 to take on the Florida Pride.
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