LA GRANDE — Eastern Oregon University athletic director Anji Weissenfluh said Title IX was woven into the culture at the university long before she arrived in La Grande.
“I have been fortunate in my time at Eastern,” she said. “My predecessors, Peggy Anderson and Rob Cashell, have been building it for decades. I think Eastern is a leader in gender equity. Eastern has been at the forefront in making sure everything was equitable from locker rooms to facilities and sports. I have been able to continue that.”
EOU will hold a Title IX celebration Thursday, Oct. 22, during its homecoming celebration. At that time, they will honor Anderson.
“We are excited to celebrate Anderson and her impact on women’s sports,” said Weissenfluh, who has seen lacrosse and wrestling added to the women’s sports lineup over the past few years. “She is going to come back and we are going to celebrate her and what she did at Eastern. She coached a lot of sports and added sports.”
Anderson, 81, who resides in Vancouver, Washington, said she is excited to go back to La Grande.
“I want to encourage people my age or older to come,” she said. “We are the pioneers. Title IX opened the door in a number of areas, but there is still work to do.”
Title IX, which was crafted by Oregon Rep. Edith Green and Hawaii Rep. Patsy Mink, marked its 50th anniversary last month. The document is just 37 words, but they are powerful: “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.”
A long history
Things have changed a lot in the past 50 years, mostly for the good, when it comes to women’s athletics.
According to a recent report, co-authored by Dr. Courtney Flowers, a sports management professor at Texas Southern University, 3 million more high school girls have opportunities to participate in sports now than they did before Title IX.
The latest numbers show women make up 44% of all college athletes, compared to 15% before Title IX.
In Oregon, 30,995 female athletes participated in sports during the 2021-22 school year. The numbers do not include band, choir, orchestra or speech and debate.
The amount of female athletes is down from years before, but that is not uncommon, according to Oregon School Activities Association Assistant Executive Director Kyle Stanfield.
“The numbers are provided by the schools,” he said. “The data is there for the national federation data. We are cognizant that the numbers are down, but it’s cyclical. In a couple of years the numbers may go up.”
Oregon has held state championships for girls since 1948, but it wasn’t until after Title IX that mainstream sports like basketball and volleyball had a state tournament.
The first Oregon state championship for girls was swimming in 1948. Tennis followed in 1949, track was added in 1967 and golf came in 1971. Oregon held its first state volleyball and cross-country championships in 1974, basketball in 1976, and soccer in 1977. Softball was added in 1979 and wrestling came in 2019.
Baker High School has worked hard to make sure its female athletes have the same opportunities as the male athletes.
“We did an audit when I got here a couple of years ago to make sure we have the same number of sports being offered,” said Baker’s athletic director, Buell Gonzales, “to make sure those things that should be happening are happening.”
Baker is adding a girls wrestling coach this season for equal and proper instruction.
“The sport is different for boys and girls and requires a different background,” Gonzales said. “It’s worth the investment. Our baseball and softball facilities are good, they share the gym and the weight room, and we have a couple of soccer fields behind the sports complex.”
A true pioneer
Anderson is not one to sit still very long. She took a 27-mile bike ride on July 2 before settling in for an interview. She had returned from a camping and kayaking trip the day before.
“I usually travel to a foreign country once or twice a year,” she said. “I do go to Baja for two to three weeks of kayaking per year. I do a lot of hiking, I ride a bike and I kayak. Do I go to very many sports? No. I watched enough as athletic director. I do have tickets for the world championships. I follow track and field more than anything.”
Anderson graduated from Wilson High School in Portland in 1959. She went to Lincoln High School her freshman year and was on the swim team. When she moved to Wilson, she was on the tennis and golf teams for three years.
“They only had individual sports, no team sports,” Anderson said of girls’ athletics. “I played on softball and basketball teams in the park bureau. I went to Eastern in 1963 and they had tennis. In 1965, we added field hockey, volleyball, basketball and track and field.”
Anderson said schools in Eastern Oregon were very active in sports pre-Title IX.
“Rural Eastern Oregon was more advanced in providing opportunities than Western Oregon was,” Anderson said. “There is equity in most schools, and most schools have tried and have addressed facilities. It’s not perfect. Some areas are stronger than others.”
As Title IX came in, Anderson was excited about the opportunities it would bring for female athletes, but female coaches had to make the decision to stay in athletics or move full-time into education.
“In 1972, 90 to 100% of women’s teams were coached by women,” Anderson said. “In 1992, less than 50% of women’s teams were coached by women.”
Anderson was at EOU from 1963-72. She helped start the women’s basketball, field hockey, volleyball and track programs in 1965-66.
She left EOU to get a doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then she was on staff at University of Arizona, where she worked a little magic to get the school to allow her to start the women’s cross-country and track programs in the late 1970s.
Though the programs were successful, she was given the option in 1979 to coach or to teach.
“That’s when it started opening the doors for men to go into coaching women’s programs,” Anderson said. “If a person is talented enough, knowledgeable and works well with people, they can coach anywhere.”
Anderson returned to EOU in 1986 as athletic director and professor of physical education. She retired from the AD job in 2001 and from teaching in 2006.
Cashell, now the commissioner of the Cascade Collegiate Conference, carried on Young’s mission for equality in women’s sports.
“Now, in his line of work, he does presentations on Title IX at NAIA national conventions,” Weissenfluh said. “I’m fortunate there were pioneers who fought hard. I didn’t feel like I had to fight for the opportunities. I am thankful for that.”