He’s a man you’ve probably never heard of. The son of an Indiana State University basketball coach who distinguished himself in the sport—primarily as a boxer and varsity baseball player—Birch Bayh was sworn in as a US Senator from his home state on January 3, 1963.
Bayh served 18 years in office, becoming the only non-Founding Father to author two amendments to the US Constitution: the 25th Amendment, which regulates the presidential succession, and the 26th, which lowered the federal voting age to 18.
But it was his sporting days that kept the senator busy. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tackled all forms of discrimination related to employment and public housing, Bayh was disturbed that the law did not address sex discrimination in schools.
He set out to change that by formulating the 37 words that would make up what we know today as Title IX: “No person in the United States shall be barred from attending or participating in any educational program or activity that receives federal financial support may be discriminated against.
While we might now think of Title IX as a sport-focused piece of legislation, what Bayh and his House colleague, US Rep. Edith Green, got through Congress did more than that. Schools couldn’t have gender anymore legal in any way, including pay and employment opportunities. If it was good enough for a man, it was good enough for a woman.
But yes, some of the most visible impacts occurred in the world of esports, transforming what was once a male-dominated company into something everyone could enjoy. Like Elizabeth Serra, who just finished her freshman season on the football team at Woodland Middle School in East Meadow.
Elizabeth scored 16 points as a kicker and even broke a tie to give Woodland a definitive win over the Seaford Vikings. The fact that she was the only girl on the team didn’t bother her in the least.
“I was a little nervous, but then I realized what I really wanted to do,” said the 13-year-old. “I just really wanted to play football. So it didn’t really bother me.”
Just a few years ago it was considered a novelty when a girl kicked field goals for a soccer team. Today is just another day on the grate. Elizabeth is far from alone.
Before Title IX, only 300,000 girls participated in high school sports, according to a report by NPR last summer. Today there are 3.5 million. And while Title IX focuses on schools, it has a much broader reach.
Like the New York Islanders Girls Elite Hockey program, started in 2016 by Alexis Moed, general manager of Connecticut Whale, a team from the women-centric professional Premier Hockey Federation. Partnering with the NHL’s Islanders, the league is filled with girls ages 8 through 19, all playing on the same ice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow as the four-time Stanley Cup winners.
The league has become a second home for Debbie Curry, a 12-year-old from Seaford who began her hockey career on boys’ teams.
“She always had a goal (on) herself to be a girl in a boy’s sport,” Debbie’s mother, Christie, said. “Here she can be recognized and has a chance to go somewhere with hockey in the future because they give the girls a chance to shine.
“I’ve never seen her so happy and she can just be herself.”
Title IX has helped girls go a long way, but the battle is far from over. Many schools still don’t know how to properly enforce Title IX compliance, while others have chosen to cut programs rather than expand it to everyone. Retaliation is widespread, and the US Department of Education believes other areas need improvement, including ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics.
Birch Bayh died in 2019 at the age of 91. But he lived long enough to see the impact his 37 simple words had on the lives of millions. An impact that literally moved him to tears.
Kelly Krauskopf is the assistant general manager of the Indiana Pacers. But in 2000, she made a name for herself by helping start Indiana Fever in the WNBA. They sold their first game with 16,000 people filling the arena and Krauskopf invited Bayh to join her before the tip on the hardwood.
“I said to him, ‘Look at this place. Can you believe that?’” she told the Indianapolis Star. “‘This would never have happened if it weren’t for you.’
“He looks at me and has these big tears in his eyes. And he said he had no idea (Title IX) would have that kind of impact. It was just one of the coolest moments.”