“Sports days must be conducted in such a manner so as to control spectator appeal and minimize publicity.”
“Participants shall be removed at once from a practice or an event if ill, injured or excessively fatigued or if there is evidence of extreme emotional instability.”
—Rules for girls sports, WIAA handbook, 1967-68
Carol Luther started her career as a physical education teacher at Franklin Middle School in 1967.
It was an exciting time. Less than a mile down the road, Parker High School was opening its doors, and Janesville was in the midst of a school building boom.
Luther taught at Franklin for three years and enjoyed teaching the sports she loved to boys and girls.
When Luther was in high school, girls sports were limited to intramurals. Even when she got into teaching, girls still didn’t have the same sports opportunities boys did.
“We had volleyball, basketball and softball,” Luther said. “That was pretty much it, and you didn’t get but one night a week.”
One night a week?
“Well, the boys had intramurals, and they had to have their time,” Luther said.
In those days, girls didn’t play official games, she said. They had “sports days” when they would play against other schools. Sometimes, the rules required them to mix up teams instead of playing school against school.
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“A girl shall be limited to four sports days per sport per school year.”
“Participation during the menstrual period shall be voluntary, subject to the approval of the woman in charge or the group, with reference to a physician in case of uncertainty.”
—Rules for girls sports, WIAA handbook, 1968-69
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When Luther interviewed for the physical education job at Parker High School, she told them she wanted to start girls sports teams.
“WIAA was starting to loosen things up,” Luther remembered.
At that time, Craig and Parker had Girls Athletic Associations or GAAs, clubs that allowed girls to informally participate in a variety of sports. The clubs also had service and social aspects. Girls held barbecues, helped out with elementary school “play days” and did secretarial work in the athletic office.
Luther wanted real teams.
“I knew that there were some track kids (from middle school) that were good,” she said.
The YMCA had club swimming at the time, too.
Why organized sports for girls?
“Well, come on,” Luther said. “I know I wanted to do that in high school, but there wasn’t anything there for us. I wanted girls to have that experience.”
In those early years, she coached volleyball, swimming, basketball and track.
The seasons were short with the girls only playing a handful of games. It all had to be done under the auspices of the Girls Athletic Association—that’s what the athletic director wanted. It’s also the way WIAA preferred it.
The rule was outlined in bold font in the 1969-70 WIAA handbook: “Sports days must be conducted only as an outgrowth of the intramural program.”
In other words, no forming teams outside of intramurals.
Girls who did well in sports could get a letter from the GAA, but the letter was smaller than the boys’ letter and a slightly different color.
But never mind that; the girls wanted to play.
“Almost immediately we had teams,” Luther recalled. “I had no trouble finding girls that wanted to play.”
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“A girl is limited to six sports days per sport, per year.”
—Rules for girls sports, WIAA handbook, 1969-70.
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Luther began to see things change.
The girls got spikes for their track shoes. OK, they were sort of “cheapos,” but they were spikes.
In those years, girls wore boys’ hand-me-downs.
“The girls volleyball team handed them on to the basketball team, who handed them on to the track kids,” Luther said. “I think it was the tennis girls that hated them the most.”
Luther understood: There wasn’t any money to buy uniforms.
Indeed, any money for uniforms would come out of the athletic department’s budget, reducing the amount the boys teams would get.
Nobody wanted that.
Things didn’t really start to change until Title IX passed in 1972.
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“No person shall … on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal assistance.”
—Educational Amendments of 1972, better known as Title IX
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Now Luther and her counterpart at Craig, Barb Dietz-Mayer, had some leverage.
They both had to tread carefully, but the law was the law.
“When Title IX came in, it was, ‘OK, you gotta make this quicker,’” Luther said.
Imagine: Now girls would need to have equal access to practice time and space for games. There was no sense in denying that it would impact boys’ sports.
She had some champions.
“(Parker basketball coach) Bob Morgan was supportive,” Luther said. “He had girls. And the dads of girls, bless their hearts, were some of our biggest supporters.”
Some of the boys who played basketball or ran track saw the girls practicing and understood their desire to compete.
But the football and wrestling boys weren’t happy about it, nor were the guys whose games got moved to Thursday nights to accommodate the girls’ schedules.
“Ohhh, when the boys had to play on Thursday night, it was so hard on them,” Luther said. “Some of them wouldn’t come in until noon the next day.”
Then athletic letters became an issue.
Luther had a boy in her class who didn’t think girls should get the same athletic letters as the boys.
When she asked him why, he said that the girls didn’t work as hard as, say, the football team. The girls could have a different letter, but not the same one the football players got, he said.
“I said to him, ‘Do you mean to tell me that the boys’ golf team is working as hard as the football players?’” Luther said.
Throughout it all, Luther used the same argument. Sports were good for girls for the same reasons they were good for boys: They build character, teach teamwork and keep young people healthy and active.
“Those same opportunities weren’t available to half of the population,” Luther said. “The biggest thing was the fairness part.”
Both Luther and Dietz-Mayer were inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 for their work establishing girls athletics at local schools.