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'Title IX' Helped to Increase Number of Female Athletes

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RALEIGH — Women's teams have come a long way on the basketball court and the soccer field. Women like Mia Hamm are making money selling everything from shoes to shampoo.

Just 20 years ago, girls did not have the chance to play many sports in schools. Since then, female athletes have made great strides... but have not reached the finish line yet.

WhenChasity Melvin, center for theWNBA'sCleveland Rockers, first started shooting hoops, all of her teammates were boys.

"The boys always had the Pee Wee leagues and stuff for football and basketball, but they didn't have leagues for girls, so I started playing with the guys," says Melvin, a formerNorth Carolina State Universitystand-out.

Melvin is one of many women athletes from the Triangle, and across the United States, who says a 1972 law calledTitle IXhelped to promote women's athletics.

"I think that Title IX was the greatest thing that ever happened to women," Melvin says.

Women's World Cup SoccerplayerCindy Parlowagrees.

Parlow,a graduate from theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, got her start playing with her brothers. But she says she is glad girls growing up today are playing a different game.

"It's becoming accepted to be female, to be an athlete, to be strong, to be a leader, that's OK now, whereas before that wasn't acceptable," Parlow says. "(Title IX) gave us a place to play, an opportunity to show who we were and now we could compete and we could be leaders."

So when did being a female athlete become acceptable?

Signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, Title IX states:no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.

High schools and colleges had six years to implement Title IX into their programs.

While it faced several congressional challenges, the law survived and the number of female athletes began to soar.

N. C. State, for example, did not have any women's programs the year Title IX was signed into law. In 1975, the school hired the first full-time coach in the state for a women's sports team, basketball coach Kay Yow.

Now it has nine female sports teams and 241 women competing in NCAA events.

"I didn't even have an idea that there were women who even play basketball in college until my sophomore year in high school," Melvin says.

Female athletes have come a long way in the past 25 years, but many admit all of the barriers have not been knocked down yet.

Marion Jones, an American sprint and long-jump star who now representsNike, says women are still facing disadvantages.

The 1997 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill says that even when women outshine men, they are still paid considerably less.

"People go to see the women's tennis, and yet when you go to the grand slams and the men are getting $300,000 more than that of women. I don't understand that," Jones says.

Melvin says women's sports need more exposure. She hopes the newly-formed WNBA league will help.

Still, the one thing these women do understand is anything can be accomplished if those setting goals just do two things: "Follow your dreams and make sure you're having fun," Parlow says.

The number of girls playing sports in North Carolina's public high schools has risen dramatically.

Today, 50,000 girls are competing in sports. That is 17,000 more than ten years ago.

The sport showing the biggest increase in participation is soccer.

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Ericka Lewis, Reporter
Ron Pittman, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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