Change doesn’t always move at a steady pace, but the message at Bakersfield College Tuesday, in a ballroom filled with Kern High School District students, was that the new generation can help speed it up.
“You are our future, you are our change agents, and I have 100 percent confidence in every one of you,” said Paula Dahl, the BC women’s basketball coach.
The implementation of Title IX — the provision of the Educational Amendments of 1972 that banned sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools — transformed women's sports in the following decades. Dahl said she was ideally positioned to reap the benefits of their dramatic growth.
“Had I been the oldest in (my) family instead of the youngest,” Dahl said, “I wouldn’t have played basketball.”
She now serves as one of the top women in BC's athletic department and helped organize Tuesday’s Women in Athletics and Education conference, an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX featuring discussions among luminaries from the Kern County sports scene and beyond.
Many speakers emphasized that as immediate of an effect as it may have had, Title IX was the product of a lengthy campaign, like many efforts that are still pending in women’s sports.
Local women’s basketball legend Nikki Blue, now an assistant coach for the Phoenix Mercury, pointed to the quest for equal pay in women's basketball, which she said remains ongoing even as her players undergo the same conditioning as the Phoenix Suns in the same facilities.
As an analogy, Blue recounted her struggle to get local pizza places to deliver to her neighborhood (near 4th and P streets) growing up, because of the stigma surrounding the area where she lived. After months and years of calling corporate to complain, Blue noted that the restaurants now deliver there, demonstrating that change comes as a result of “constantly, year after year, saying ‘We deserve this.’”
Her story set the tone for a day of conversations centering on gender justice in interscholastic athletics.
They featured Bakersfield luminaries like Blue and Women’s College World Series MVP Megan Langenfeld alongside nationally renowned figures like Basketball Hall of Famer and television analyst Cheryl Miller. Miller had plenty of anticipation built up for her arrival; Dahl repeatedly called her the greatest of all time.
But as she was fielding questions about how to support friends and teammates, she demonstrated her own sort of unselfish behavior, yielding much of her speaking time to her friend Alicia Berber, the women’s basketball coach at Riverside City College, who discussed her involvement in a legal battle with her school over alleged gender-based discrimination within its athletic department.
Then Miller, asked by Bakersfield Christian basketball standout and incoming MIT freshman Jordyn Toler about how she found her voice, turned the question back on Toler.
Toler responded that she had to lose it first, by suffering a season-ending injury as a freshman, before she could find it.
“I realized I am so much more than just sneakers and a jersey,” Toler said.
When Miller did choose to speak herself, she took on a no-nonsense attitude in addressing the assembled athletes.
“You must toughen up,” she said. “Because out there, they’re going to tell you everything you’re not.”
The former collegiate and pro coach added that success requires “all you have.”
That sentiment was reflected in several other conversations throughout the day. Langenfeld noted that a collegiate athlete can only “be an All-American” in two of three key facets of their lives: sports, academics and socializing.
“It’s kind of an ongoing challenge to take care of yourself, appreciate yourself and work hard at what you do,” said Allan Hancock College Athletic Director Kim Ensing, part of a four-woman athletic administration panel.
The event wove its way back to the origins of Title IX for one of the final segments of the day. UC Irvine professor Judy Wu and independent scholar Gwendolyn Mink co-wrote "Fierce and Fearless," a biography of Mink's late mother Patsy, the longtime representative from Hawaii who coauthored Title IX.
Wu praised the conference as "intergenerational feminist mentoring at its finest." She celebrated Mink's work to establish Title IX. But she also noted that Mink had to work hard to defend the legislation against efforts to weaken it.
Gwendolyn Mink, who appeared via prerecorded interview segments, said that the Bush and Trump administrations had previously attempted to erode Title IX.
"I have no doubt that if another unfriendly administration comes into power," she said, "Title IX will be front and center of the execution squad for many of those folks."
Wu pointed out one key message of Mink's work: "These legislative gains are not there forever. They're only there as long as we defend these efforts."