“No person in the United States 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 financial assistance.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

Fifty years after the fact, there are still a few misconceptions. One is that as soon as Title IX became law on June 23, 1972, changes were quick and dramatic.

Not so. Progress did begin, but it was so gradual that many of the ‘70s female athletes didn’t even notice as they lived it.

“We didn’t have practice gear until probably my junior year,” said Nancy Scott ’81, a former William & Mary basketball player. “No one did our laundry for us. We drove in a van, never on a bus. And we never had cheerleaders or the pep band at our games.

“But I don’t think we realized what we didn’t have. We were happy for what we did have. By the time we were juniors and seniors, we had one t-shirt and one pair of shorts for practice and they gave us a pair of sneakers. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.”

With four-plus decades of reflection, former tennis player Libba Galloway ’79 has a unique perspective. Her coach then was Millie West, a champion for women’s athletics long before Title IX. She kept her players educated.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize what the athletic climate was like for women who wanted to play sports in the 1970s,” she said. “Title IX was just passed in 1972 but it took a long time for people to say, ‘OK, how do we deal with this?’”

Like its peers, William & Mary had to navigate through it. The biggest change was awarding athletic scholarships to female athletes.

There is no record of who came first, but Scott and teammate Lynn Norenberg Barry ’81 were among the earliest. So were lacrosse/field hockey teammates Pixie Hamilton, Peel Hawthorne and Claire Campbell (all ’80).

Jane Fanestil Peterson ’86, a former setter on W&M’s volleyball team, recalls being the first female from her high school in La Jolla, Calif., to receive athletic scholarship money.

“That wasn’t something I ever thought about,” Peterson said. “When I looked for a college, I was definitely looking for a place to play volleyball. But the money wasn’t even part of my thinking.

“That was partly because I was fortunate that my parents were going to pay for my education. And it was partly because it was something you didn’t hear about then {for female athletes}.”

Interestingly, athletics was never specifically mentioned in Title IX. When it became clear that women’s sports would be included, there was some backlash. As years went on, some men’s sports became casualties.

It was an interesting time for William & Mary, which separated its athletic departments by gender until 1986. That was four years after the NCAA took over women’s athletics from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

West, who first came to W&M as a physical education instructor in 1959, was the women’s athletic director. Hailing from Georgia, she was known for her southern charm and not taking no for an answer. That certainly applied after Title IX became law.

“That gave Millie West some ammunition to go after things she had been fighting for a long time,” said Debbie Hill, W&M’s volleyball coach from 1976-2007. “She was able to say, ‘Hey, it’s the law.’ She was the mover and shaker.”

Hawthorne, who coached field hockey from 1987-2012 and is now W&M’s senior woman administrator, considers West’s influence immeasurable.

“If you didn’t have a strong leader advocating for women by knocking on the door of the president and talking to anybody who would listen,” she said, “it would have taken longer.”

Many female athlete alums have taken on leadership roles in their careers. Barry went on to work with the NCAA as an enforcement representative. She was assistant executive director with USA Basketball and a special advisor to the WNBA in its infancy years.

Galloway earned her J.D. from Duke and served as deputy commissioner of the LPGA from 2000-10. She’s now director of the business law program at Stetson University.

Peterson is head volleyball coach at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minn. She has fashioned a remarkable career that has seen her win 728 matches and three National Junior College Athletic Association championships in 31 seasons.

Jill Ellis ’88 (soccer) coached the Women’s National Team to two FIFA World Cups. Jen Psaki ’00 (swimming) served as President Biden’s press secretary. Kathy Carter ’91 (soccer) is CEO of the organizing committee for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Fifty years later, Title IX’s influence is undeniable. Barry, whose career scoring average of 18.3 points a game remains a school record, sees an obvious difference between then and now.

“When I was a junior in high school, we just had a field day,” she said. “We didn’t have a full basketball season. And that was in ’76. It took a long time, but it’s gotten better and better and better over the years.

“There’s still a long way to go, but the women’s athletes of today don’t even think about what they have. They just expect it because they’ve had it. When we were coming through, it was a big deal to get uniforms and have a season.”

When it comes to coaching, former W&M swimmer Mindy Wolff ’75 noted that the coach of her era was well-intentioned, but not well nuanced in the sport, unlike the head coaches of today.

Another improvement, Wolff believes, has come by investing in coaching.

“The former coach, who is now at Princeton (Matt Crispino, 2007-19), was phenomenal. And the current coach (Nate Kellogg) is phenomenal. We didn’t have coaches like those.”

No one is suggesting the mission is complete. According to a report last fall, the NCAA spent an average of $4,285 on male athletes at championship events as opposed to $2,588 on female athletes. That study, commissioned by the NCAA, did not include basketball.

“We’re still not there,” Hawthorne said. “We’re more in compliance now than we’ve ever been. But sports for women in general still have a long way to go in the United States.”

Hill is confident that its leadership will help William & Mary get there.

“I do believe that President (Katherine A.) Rowe and certainly (Athletics Director) Brian Mann have a goal in mind to close the gap to what Title IX requires,” she said. “Definitely.”