Chicago Sky and the WNBA honor 40 years of Title IX

  • Photo: Gary Dineen

    The Chicago Sky's Sylvia Fowles (#34) leaps for the hoop during a WNBA game in July 2011 at the All-State Arena in Rosemont.

  • Photo: Gary Dineen

    Young fans cheer on the Chicago Sky.

  • Photo: Gary Dineen

    Courtney Wandersloot (#21) of the Chicago Sky drives past her Atlanta Dream opponent during a WNBA game in July 2011 at the All-State Arena in Rosemont.

  • Photo: Gary Dineen

    Epiphanny Prince (#10) of the Chicago Sky navigates the basketball court during a WNBA game in July 9 at the All-State Arena in Rosemont.

  • Young fans show their Chicago Sky spirit.

Photo: Gary Dineen

The Chicago Sky's Sylvia Fowles (#34) leaps for the hoop during a WNBA game in July 2011 at the All-State Arena in Rosemont.

Happy 40th, Title IX! To celebrate the federal law mandating that schools give girls’ athletic teams the same opportunities as boys’, last week the Chicago Sky WNBA team announced a season-long celebration with special ticket offers, game-day events and programs to promote girl power on local courts, field and rinks.

The Sky hosted a commemoration event February 1 in conjunction with Girls in the Game, a nonprofit that runs after-school sports programs for Chicago-area girls, at Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago. About 40 students, dressed in the school’s khaki-and-navy uniforms, enthusiastically answered questions about their favorite sports and the colleges they hoped to attend. But when asked if they knew what Title IX was, the boisterous group fell silent. No one raised a hand.

Before Title IX passed in 1972, only two percent of women played college sports. Since the law took effect (schools had four years to implement the changes), girls’ participation in sports has risen 456 percent at the college level and 904 percent at the high school level, where one in three girls now participate in athletics.

Speaker Melissa Parker, programs director of Girls in the Game, noted the gap that still exists between how our culture treats women’s sports versus men’s sports. “On the radio, they’ll tell the scores of the men’s basketball game, and I don’t hear the scores for DePaul’s women’s basketball, which is a Top 25 ranked team,” Parker says, “They don’t mention Notre Dame scores, whose team is number two in the country.”

But Chicago Sky chairman Margaret Stender had a more positive spin. A basketball player throughout grade school, Stender played on the University of Richmond’s women’s team beginning in 1974. One day after practice, she recalls, the coach kept the players late to meet with a shoe–company representative. Accustomed to being denied the training sweats, private tutors and nicer dorms that the men got, the women were shocked to learn the university would be fronting the bill for their brand-new sneaks.

Two days later, Stender and her teammates prepped in the locker room for a game. “We’re all bending down, tying up those shoes, and we all thought, ‘Wow, this rocks. We look so hot, so strong, so capable!’,” she recalls. “We were the same girls who were in the locker room a week ago, but those shoes said something about what we could do. From that point on, that team was faster, jumped higher, shot better.”

The experience taught her something about the value of being appreciated, along with developing a positive work ethic, discipline and determination. “That’s the power of what Title IX has done for all of us,” Stender says.

Chicago Sky will celebrate Title IX’s 40th anniversary by offering $40 ticket/T-shirt packages. Also, $9 tickets (get it?) are available to the August 17 game. The Sky's 2012 season runs May 19 through September 22; home games happen at 6920 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont. Be sure to check out Girls in the Game's camp in our just-published 2012 Summer Camps Guide.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)