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The Pioneering Women Who Started the Fight for Equality in Minnesota Sports

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Dorothy McIntyre heard both the whispers and the screams back then, all those negative feelings and lies about sport harming women’s bodies, that competition was somehow bad for them.

Right in front of her, however, was the balance of that nonsense: the girls in her classes at Eden Prairie High School telling her they just wanted to play.

“They were constantly at my door saying, ‘Let’s go. Why can’t we do what the boys do? “McIntyre said. “I didn’t have an answer. I couldn’t see an easy way to do it – so we did it the hard way.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was no easy path to equality in sport. Changing deeply held views took not only courage and conviction, but also the legal backing that came 50 years ago this month when Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 became law.

The passage of Title IX offered no big bang moments. While some considered Minnesota an early leader in providing athletic opportunities for girls and women, experiences across the state were uneven.

Lynnette Sjoquist graduated from Cannon Falls High School a year short of Title IX, in 1971. She had a love of sports growing up and would later play three of them in college, but in high school her options looked like intramural exhibitions.

Sjoquist, now a radio analyst for Gophers women’s basketball, remembers following her brothers to their basketball practices, hoping the coach might just let her play. The invitation never came.

McIntyre heard from the girls and young women of that time. She listened to the students in her classes.

Eden Prairie needed a gymnastics team, McIntyre decided, and so she formed one. When told the school couldn’t free up a bus, McIntyre got her own bus driver’s license and drove the team to competitions herself.

“When it’s the right thing to do,” she said, “you don’t listen to the naysayers. You just go ahead and do the right thing.”

She helped organize a girls’ athletics meet and made a replica of the Olympic torch from a can of tomato soup and aluminum foil which was carried into the stadium to open the competition . Competitors received ribbons.

“You would have thought it was a gold medal,” McIntyre said.

She carried that courage far beyond those early days of seeking equality. More than 20 years after the landmark 1972 legislation, she was still fighting to have the law followed when Minnesota’s favorite pastime was in the Title IX spotlight.

A group of hockey coaches from a northern Minnesota high school stood in the back of a room, arms crossed and laying daggers at McIntyre as she gave a speech informing them that women’s hockey would become a sport official requiring facilities equal to those of boys.

McIntyre noticed a coach nudging a guy who was standing next to him and mumbling, “Over my dead body.

“If that’s your choice,” she replied.

As an official of the Minnesota State High School League, McIntyre oversaw the mission to provide girls with officially sanctioned opportunities to play sports, which meant she was not popular in some places.

A coach suggested she be sent back to her home state of Iowa. McIntyre now jokes that her unofficial MSHSL title at the time was “that woman.” She often took Teddy Roosevelt’s advice.

“Most of the time we were speaking softly and trying to convey the message through logic and ideas,” McIntyre said. “There were times when we needed a stick and that’s what Title IX became.”

‘Missing’

Sjoquist grew up on a farm with three brothers and a twin sister. Her brothers played multiple sports while she was limited to activities sponsored by her local 4-H club and Jaycees. In high school, there was the GAA – Girls Athletic Association – a far cry from the structure supporting boys’ sport.

At her brothers’ basketball practices, she just watched. “Did I feel like something was missing?” she says. “Yeah, I did.

Everything changed when she enrolled at Golden Valley Lutheran College in the fall of 1971. She played basketball, volleyball and softball. “I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s okay, I like that,'” she said.

Sjoquist’s basketball career continued after college when she played for a professional barnstorming team called the All-American Red Heads, followed by a four-year stint with the Women’s Minnesota Fillies. Professional Basketball League.

Sjoquist called the impact of Title IX a “slow rollout” that required grassroots advocacy.

“It wasn’t like somebody from the feds was saying, ‘Do you have equal opportunity for your daughters?'” Sjoquist said. “No, it really had to be implemented on a school-by-school basis. It took someone with courage and initiative to start the process.”

Someone like Dorothy McIntyre.

Her life from 1968 through the late ’70s was a parade of measurable progress, from when McIntyre joined a committee to create regulations and guidelines for girls’ preparatory athletics similar to those of boys. She then presented the plan to the all-male High School League statewide assembly of delegates in the fall of 1968.

“I stood in front of these 32 men and said, ‘Girls should be able to play the same sports here in Minnesota as boys,'” she said. “There were eyebrows that went up and mouths that went down. But there were also nods like, ‘Yeah, that would be a good thing.’ “

The legislative body returned to the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis the following spring to vote on the proposal. McIntyre was standing outside a ballroom awaiting the announcement when a man leaned over and said, “I’ll bet you a quarter it doesn’t go through.”

“I don’t think he gave me my quarterback because he went 32-0,” McIntyre said. “Can you imagine that?”

The MSHSL had hired McIntyre in 1970 to oversee the development of the women’s sport. In May 1972, a month before Title IX became law, Minnesota held its first girls’ state tournament in track and field.

“Every event was a state record,” McIntyre said with a chuckle. “We had like 600 girls from all over the state there and it was just the most fun thing in the world.”

In 1977, Minnesota held state tournaments in 11 women’s sports.

“You can imagine the plates spinning,” McIntyre said.

“Models”

One of these plaques involved the creation of a women’s basketball tournament. Schools across the state were divided on whether to hold the tournament in the fall or winter, leading to the crowning of separate champions.

Finally, in 1976, the MSHSL opted for a two-class tournament held during the winter season. St. Paul Central beats Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the first Class 2A Championship match.

Linda Roberts was a junior star for St. Paul Central and Lisa Lissimore a sophomore star. Both grew up playing multiple sports as children in the Rondo community of St. Paul. Their participation in sports has always been encouraged and supported, never frowned upon.

“When everyone talks about Title IX, I always think the Twin Cities are way ahead,” said Roberts, a basketball trailblazer whose Gophers jersey is retired and hung in the rafters at Williams Arena. “We were doing sports long before that.”

Lissimore, who also played college basketball and then worked for the MSHSL for 34 years, still remembers celebrating that state tournament 46 years ago.

His team stayed in a hotel during the tournament and received a hero’s return to school with a police and fire truck escort after winning the championship.

“It was a big, big deal,” Lissimore said. “Obviously, it was a historic moment for this community. The players on our team became automatic role models for the girls. Everyone in the community knew us. It had an impact on increasing participation. “

The discrepancies were widespread, however, and Kathie Eiland-Madison saw them up close. She played in that 1976 tournament as a senior on the former Marshall-University High School team before joining the Gophers as an extra. She said gender inequality didn’t fully register with her until college, when she witnessed the rift between the men’s and women’s basketball programs in how they were supported.

“It was very obvious,” she said.

The years just before and just after the adoption of Title IX were filled with this inequality. For every tie win in a corner of Minnesota sports, there were still many battles to be fought for McIntyre and other trailblazers and defenders. She endured these heated debates and had to wield her Title IX baton on occasion, but the personal hardships were worth it.

Today, 50 years later, she is counting on progress: “We have changed the face of the world.

. . .

Title IX at age 50

An occasional Star Tribune series focusing on gender equity in Minnesota sports. Read previous episodes of our series on starttribune.com/titleix.