Title IX: Forty years of battles to establish New Richmond girls sportsForty years ago, Title IX was adopted, providing for gender equity in all publicly-funded athletic opportunities.
By: Dave Newman, New Richmond News
Forty years ago, Title IX was adopted, providing for gender equity in all publicly-funded athletic opportunities.
While the majority of the attention has been devoted to how hard women had to work to be treated equally in college and professional athletics, the battle was equally as difficult at the high school level. Here we will chronicle the rise of girls sports at New Richmond High School, largely through the views of two of the coaches who have been involved since the beginning of the fight.
Judy (Poast) Weiss was the original coach in New Richmond girls sports starting in the 1972-73 school year, and she remains as the New Richmond girls track coach. Betty Komula was also involved since the beginning, coaching Tiger volleyball and tennis teams. She has now passed the coaching baton to her daughter, Denise Devereux, who coaches the Tiger girls tennis program.
Before Title IX was passed, the main avenue open to girls interested in sports was the Girls Athletic Association, which met one night a week. Girls could compete in volleyball, basketball, badminton and bowling.
Bill Komula, the NRHS athletic director when Title IX was implemented, approached Weiss about coaching the three sports that would be initially offered, volleyball, basketball and track. Weiss had a physical education minor, so she agreed to coach all three sports. Betty Komula took over the volleyball program in 1975. Polly Simpson assisted Weiss in basketball at the start, before they switched roles, with Simpson becoming the head coach in 1975.
Progress didn’t come easily at first. For the first year, the three sports shared the same uniforms. They were pinnies on which a mother had sewn on numerals, which were worn over the girls’ gym clothes.
In the first season of basketball, practices were held in the elementary school gym, where the baskets stood at nine feet.
Weiss and Komula said some girls were wholly ready to compete in the first years, but many had to discover what being competitive was all about.
“Our first basketball team was seven kids. At first it was for the kids to understand what (competing) was all about,” Weiss said.
Komula agreed, saying most girls “were almost in a state of shock.”
There were other hurdles to overcome. In the first years, Ski Club was extremely popular at the high school. Weiss said she couldn’t hold practices on Tuesdays in the winter because most of her team was skiing.
Weiss recalled one of the first girls basketball games, when the Tigers went to Mondovi and lost by a 9-7 score.
“There were some pretty hard growing lessons,” Weiss said.
The coaches knew they had taken on a major task. They went to every clinic they could. Weiss and Simpson would stay after their practices to watch the boys team practice. Weiss said boys basketball coaches Wayne Seibold and Bernie Lyksett would meet with them after practices, answering any questions they had.
Weiss and Komula agreed that many of the Middle Border Conference schools hired coaches who knew a great deal about their sport. Those coaches worked with the other coaches in the conference to help the overall quality of girls sports improve more rapidly.
“Ruth Swanson of Ellsworth was my mentor. She set the standard for basketball,” Weiss said. Komula said Mary Kelm of Baldwin-Woodville deserved that title for volleyball.
At first, it was nearly all females who were coaching girls sports. One of the next big steps was when men began getting involved in coaching the girls.
“We were too nice,” Weiss said of the women coaches. Weiss said the inclusion of male coaches “was where we developed our fire.”
The Tiger girls programs began to flourish. The girls basketball team qualified for the first WIAA state tournament in its sport in 1976. Between 1976 and 1980 the Tigers won four of five MBC basketball titles.
Volleyball became a consistent winner, qualifying for the WIAA state tournament in 1986. New Richmond track won its first MBC title in 1975. The Tiger girls would win five straight titles between 1982 and 1986. In their history the Tigers have won more than 15 MBC track titles.
While there was success in the sports arena, there were still other battles to be waged. Equitable pay for female coaches was one of the final hurdles. Komula led the charge in this battle. She waited until her youngest child graduated in 1986. She then put her cards on the table in a meeting with district administrator Tom Kleppe.
“I was getting paid less than the assistant football coaches,” Komula said. “I had to threaten a grievance to get an equitable pay scale for women coaches.”
Weiss said Komula was the perfect person to fight that battle.
“She’s pretty mild mannered, but she can fight for things when she has to,” Weiss said. “We had established ourselves. We had proven our worth over time.”
Weiss and Komula have stayed involved in the never-ending progress made in girls sports. In the early years, it was a major accomplishment to convince a girl to step into the weight room. It took years of convincing the girls that they could lift weights and still be feminine. Now, girls are just as involved in the weight room as boys are.
There were fears, when new sports were added, that they might take away from the number of girls on existing teams. As girls sports grew and sports like tennis, softball, golf, soccer and hockey were added, more girls continued to become involved, keeping every sport viable and progressing.
If you get the impression that Weiss and Komula are fiercely proud of what has been accomplished in 40 years of girls sports, you are correct. They both attended school in the years before the option of competitive sports was available, and it stings to this day.
“When I look back, I resent that I didn’t have the opportunity. We had no idea how much fun it could have been,” Weiss said.
“I would have given anything to have done that,” Komula said about the chance to compete.
The coaches said the people who deserve a major share of the credit are the girls who went out for sports in the first years it was offered, who took the chance to be part of something that was new and untried.
“Those girls who started this, who took a chance, they need to be proud,” Weiss said. “They need to see where their first steps have taken us.”