A Look Inside: Impact of Title IX at UWEC 50 years later

Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 4:05 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - As the NCAA celebrates a half-century of Title IX in 2022, it’s an opportunity to look back at some of the progress that has been made to create a more even playing field for men’s and women’s athletics. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire offers 25 varsity sports to more than 800 student-athletes.

“For our program it made a difference in compensation for coaches, it made a difference in facilities, you can look at McPhee gym, there were no bleachers when I came here I set up 75 chairs for women’s basketball team.”

That was former UW-Eau Claire Athletic Director Marilyn Skrivseth in 2002. A pioneer for women’s athletics and a proponent in implementing Title IX to help provide more opportunities for girls and young women in sports. In attempt to find equal footing for both men and women, Title IX brought tough decisions through the years including the elimination of the Blugolds baseball program in 1995.

“I’ve seen the whole evolution of women’s sports, we’ve added sports, the hardest thing is we’ve dropped sports,” said Skrivseth in February, 2002.

“Those are the things when we think of Title IX there’s a lot of emotion behind it because so much of it has been about cutting men’s sports to add women’s sports, there’s room at the table for everybody, it’s about finding resources and having the commitment to that balance,” says Kim Wudi, UWEC women’s volleyball coach.

Blugold coaches Kim Wudi, Leslie Huntington and Tonja Englund share the belief that providing more opportunities for all students would only help in the long run.

Englund says, ““Sometimes that’s the impression from a distance, and that’s never been that at all. And in my mind, like we’ve said here, more opportunities for everyone. And no one suffers because we grow but sometimes when you hear Title IX everyone gets a little hesitant with that, it’s more what we’re saying here, let’s fundraise, let’s do whatever we have to do to make sure boys and girls have all the same opportunities that they deserve.”

Prior to becoming the Blugolds volleyball coach, Kim Wudi was a student-athlete at UWEC in the late 1990′s. She witnessed firsthand the challenge of adding women’s hockey as a varsity sport.

“Because at that time in order to add women’s ice hockey, there was a proposal to cut four men’s sports. That was in my lifetime so that was really my first foray into what Title IX really meant,” explains Wudi. “The men of wrestling, and men’s tennis, and men’s cross country. Those sports were on the chopping block in order to add hockey, which is now one of our top performing, amazing sports. That’s I think about that right now gosh what would have happened if those sports would have been cut back then.”

Helping bring baseball back to campus was a priority for Blugolds Director of Athletics Dan Schumacher when he came on board in 2014. Schumacher says it took years on analyzing data to make sure the university was compliant with Title IX. The addition of three sports in 2019 including baseball increased UW-Eau Claire’s athletic teams to 25, including 12 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams.

“Previous administrations have given rules in which if you can meet them you are in compliance we have done that that allowed us safe harbor to make some good decisions for the institution not just athletics but for the institution for enrollment growth and two, creating more opportunities for students to come here and participate,” says Schumacher.

After starting again from scratch, the Blugold baseball program is now in its third season. For softball coach Leslie Huntington, it’s a welcome sight for everyone.

“And I think for our players, they love it because they now feel like we have a partner in this. And now we have our equitable sport in this and they are very supportive of the baseball program, I love that we have baseball and it just seems like a real natural thing to have baseball back,” says Huntington.

Englund adds, “A pride point in this athletic department is that we’re adding sports in a time that things are rough. And people are having to cut and we’re fighting to have more.”

Another pride point for Schumacher is the facilities available for Blugold student-athletes, now and for the future.

“When I got here, this volleyball court used to be a basketball court, they played on a basketball court. Now you look at it, it’s a volleyball arena. It had card tables and chairs, it didn’t have a video board, not monogrammed nets, we came in we re-did the court, added a scorer’s table, tables to conduct the game,” says Schumacher. “Just like the softball team, leaving Gelein to create their own space that was specialized. Those are the type of spaces that we’re creating for both women and men on campus. So facilities become a key point, that’s why you see the development of the Sonnentag because Zorn is old, it’s outdated, it doesn’t attract the student-athlete that we want coming here to compete for us. Sure we bring in great student-athletes academically but we struggle because of facilities to get that top tier athlete.”