Celebrating Title IX at Notre Dame

Notre Dame's women's basketball team celebrates their 2012 Final Four victory over UConn.  Copyright University of Notre Dame / Photo by Matt Cashore Notre Dame's women's basketball team celebrates their 2012 Final Four victory over UConn. Copyright University of Notre Dame / Photo by Matt Cashore

Dr. Anne Dilenschneider, a Notre Dame alumna ('77) and nationally-published essayist, recently penned an inspiring account of the effort to finally document the first women's sports teams at Notre Dame.

As Dilenschneider explains in her excellent essay, entitled "Title IX at Notre Dame: What Though the Odds be Great or Small," published June 25 on the Huffington Post, the problem was simple: when women first came to Notre Dame and started fledgling sports teams, there wasn't enough press coverage to establish a significant record of women's sports.

In 2012, it's almost surprising such a documentary effort was even necessary.  When we take for granted that our friends at UND.com offer unparalleled coverage of the female Fighting Irish and that Irish women's basketball star Skylar Diggins is the most popular collegiate student-athlete on Twitter, it's hard to imagine a time when women's sports teams on campus were scrapping for funding, let alone press coverage.

As the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation approached (and it was celebrated by some folks you might recognize), Dilenschneider and other student-athletes from Notre Dame's first coed classes compiled everything they could find about the school's first women's sports teams.  Dilenschneider writes:

...[A] number of us who had played on the first women's teams decided it was time to add this chapter to the history of Notre Dame. We knew that our best resource was each other, and we already had an email list that included most of the 317 women of the Class of 1977. So, on August 18, 2011, a request was sent to the women of our class, asking anyone who played on a team for Notre Dame, or who knew anyone who played, to connect with the Early Women Athletes Project. The request was also posted on the Notre Dame Women '77 Facebook page. Later that day, the first of 2,428 emails came in. 
After months of digging through scrapbooks, contacting past coaches and combing through old rosters - not to mention  those 2,428 emails! - Dilenschneider and her fellow researchers amassed a compendium of stories from 230 female student-athletes.  As they told their stories, they revived old friendships and created new relationships with current female student-athletes, especially as Muffet McGraw's women's basketball squad made a run at the national title.
So next time you tune in to watch one of Notre Dame's stellar women's sports squads on a primetime broadcast, remember: It wasn't always this way.  Sure, they've earned plenty of their own accolades, on and off the playing field.  But Skylar Diggins and company owe a large measure of their popularity to the perseverance of thousands of female Fighting Irish student-athletes in the 40 years since Title IX.
-Michael Rodio
Contact Michael via email.
For more photos of the fantastic female Fighting Irish, head to photos.nd.edu

 by Michael Rodio

Posted In: Features