ELDRIDGE, Iowa — On National Signing Day, Feb. 2, 11 North Scott High School athletes committed to playing their sport in college.
Wednesday is also National Girls and Women in Sports Day, a day to recognize the accomplishments of female athletes, the influence of sports participation for women and girls and honor the progress and continuing struggle for equality for women in sports. It's also kicking off the 50th anniversary year of Title IX, the landmark gender equity law that's had tremendous impact on women's sports.
Five of the athletes at North Scott's signing day were young women, including Grace Graham, who will be playing volleyball and running track at Maryville University next year.
"If I didn't have sports, I wouldn't really have gotten to know like who I am and what I can do to reach my fullest potential," Graham said. "It shaped me to be a more competitive person and to learn more about the game, to always push my limits. It's all mindset, so as long as I can fix my mindset, I can do anything."
The opportunities that are available to Graham and these young women now aren't the same as they were prior to the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Title IX gave women athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports in educational institutions that receive federal funds. Female participation in high school athletics increased from 294,015 in 1972 to 3.4 million in 2019, according to the Women's Sports Foundation.
Title IX has also increased the number of women's sports teams in schools and scholarships offered.
"I just feel like there's more girls that are able to do more things that they want to do," said Grace's mom, Sarah Graham. "They are not told they can't anymore. I just feel like that has changed our world and has made girls more confident, more successful, more able to deal with different things that might come their way, different problems and how to problem solve."
North Scott volleyball coach Taryn Vanearwage said she has seen female athlete's opportunities expand. North Scott offers girls wrestling, and the sport was recently sanctioned by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
"Just like any male that has that opportunity, I feel like it should be the same exact way for a woman," Vanearwage said. "I don't think because of your gender that you should have to be less than."
The world of women's sports has changed entirely since Sarah played volleyball at North Scott and in college in the late 1980s, early 90s.
"When I was going through there was not a lot of opportunities for girls to do sports besides what they offered in school, so there wasn't travel any sports," she said. "And just the whole aspect of weight training, and how important that is, that didn't even start to evolve until I was in college for girls. The boys were able to do that, but the girls, it wasn't encouraged at all."
Both Vanearwage and Sarah Graham said there's lots of room for improvement in women sports.
"I would hope that people don't look at men and women sports as like two totally different things where it has in the past," Vanearwage said. "I hope over the next 50 years, that's something that we can look to improve because the women's game is just as important as any men's sport."
Sarah added that she would also like to see more opportunities for young women who want to play historically male-dominated sports.
"There are some girls that want to play football," she said. "That is something that I could see opening even more as that love of that sport grows and the change of not always thinking it's just a male-dominated sport. Same thing with baseball. There are some girls that instead of softball would rather play baseball, and that's another area where potentially it could grow, and it'd be helpful for those girls that want to choose that."