Swimming World Presents “Pioneers of Title IX: The Prohibition of Sex Discrimination in Educational Programs”
As Swimming World presents this year’s Female High School Swimmer of the Year, we take a look back to the years when there were only isolated opportunities for girls to swim while in high school. We also remember two pioneers who helped make swimming a high school sport for women: Donna de Varona and Sandra Bucha.
For most of history, at least in Europe, swimming was like all other forms of physical exercise: in the realm of the man’s world.
But as women began to travel in great numbers by water, it was discovered that women drowned in disproportionate numbers to men when accidents happened. Thus, swimming was recognized as being more than a sport, and women started exerting their right to swim so they could save themselves when necessary.
Once women were allowed to learn to swim for safety, some also wanted to participate in swimming as a sport—like the men. While the Amateur Athletic Union recognized a national swimming championship for men in 1876, women would have to wait until 1916 to crown national champions.
The first college to offer swimming was the University of Pennsylvania in 1897. Others followed, and within a few years, leagues were being formed and the first intercollegiate championships were held—for men. In 1937, the NCAA officially recognized men’s swimming as a championship sport. From 1917 through 1980, an intercollegiate and/or NCAA swimming guide was published that included all the results from high school, junior college and college meets—again, for boys and men.
While the USA was producing many of the finest women swimmers in the world, it was through AAU clubs, not from school programs. In fact, until the passage of the landmark legislation of 1972, known as Title IX, there were very few high schools that offered competitive sports programs. If girls sports programs did exist, they were mostly “non-competitive” in nature…and state championships for them were not even considered.
Of course, there were exceptions. The state of Florida began hosting a high school swimming championship for girls in 1920, although very few schools participated due to the dearth of pools.
The gender equity discussion took a major leap forward with the publication of the July 25-Aug. 1, 1964 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. On the cover were the two American stars of the 1964 Olympic Games, Donna de Varona and Don Schollander. Both had attended Santa Clara High School in California. Both swam for legendary Coach George Haines and the Santa Clara Swim Club. Haines was also the coach of the high school, but only Schollander swam for the school since there wasn’t a girls’ team…