“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
— Signed into law by President Nixon on June 23, 1972
Jani Sitton did not know what Title IX was when she was in high school. She just thought it was wrong that there was no girls basketball team.
So she was part of a fight.
She learned of Title IX at college, as a member of the Oregon State women's basketball team in the late 1970s.
Her team had to ride in buses, or vans, to road games in the Pacific 8 Conference. The men's team flew to its games.
So she voiced her opinion.
Yes, Jani Sitton found herself in the middle of some battles, fighting for women athletes in the early years after Title IX became law in 1972.
That does not mean she needs an anniversary to celebrate the landmark legislation that paved the way for more opportunities for women athletes.
She has a family to remind her every day.
Jani and Kurt Sitton have five children: Three of the daughters — Breann, Andrea, and Jenna Rae — earned Division I athletic scholarships and are college graduates.
Their son Grant is on the path to a college degree, playing basketball. And their youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, a senior-to-be at Prairie High School, is hoping to play college volleyball.
"There are so many options now," Jani Sitton said. "We just tried to teach them the importance of a good work ethic, to make them aware of what could happen, and what was available to them."
The five Sitton children have had varying degrees of athletic success. Yet all five understand that it is not required to be a high school star to make it as a college athlete. Opportunities are there at small colleges, at junior colleges.
That was not always the case, especially for women.
Athletics is only a part of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was signed into law on June 23, 1972. Still, athletics is often used to show Title IX's impact.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, in the year before the law was enacted, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports in the United States. That number is now at more than 3 million.
While more boys still compete than girls and there remain compliance issues throughout the country, Jani Sitton, for one, applauds the gains made possible by Title IX.
Growing up in Oregon
An athlete who tried just about every sport she could while her family lived in Tigard, Ore., Jani, then Jani Pretty, moved to Yamhill, Ore., in the middle of her eighth-grade year.
There was no organized basketball. There was a track and field team but not a whole lot of opportunities for girls.
Jani was a distance runner. At Yamhill as an eighth-grader, she recalled the longest distance a girl was "allowed" to run was 400 meters. The boys had a full slate of events.
"I remember as a kid just being so shocked," Jani said. "It was very frustrating."
She also did not shy away from her opinions.
"I told them, 'This is not a distance event. The 400 is considered a sprint.' They didn't like me," she said. "I probably thought I knew too much, and I shared it with them."
There was no girls basketball team at Yamhill-Carlton High School when Jani was a freshman. Jani's older sister, Jacky, went to the athletic director to complain, and the first team was organized the next school year.
"We just fought for it. We had to convince a lot of people," Jani said. "Some people were with us. Some were definitely against us. I was really shocked at how many people were against us. I expected everybody to be on our side. But no."
Still, the girls were not exactly treated as equals. They had morning practices, 6 a.m., every day before school. The boys got the gym after school.
Winning certainly helped. The Yamhill-Carlton girls went to the state tournament that first year, won state when Jani was a junior in 1976, and then finished third when she was a senior.
"It made it easier to get gym time," Jani said.
At the urging of her high school coach Greg Stiff, Jani walked on at Oregon State for the 1977-78 season. By the middle of the campaign, Jani was a starter and had earned a scholarship for the following season.
She first learned of Title IX at Oregon State.
"Our coaches talked to us, and our responsibility to represent all women sports," Jani recalled. "We'd go to meetings, and we'd stand up and talk about it."
Bus rides to Pullman
There were times when she and her teammates got to ride in a chartered bus. But there were other times when they crammed into a van, with Jani, a freshman, having to sit on luggage.
"We'd have this long drive from Corvallis to Washington State, and the guys were there, too, but they flew. That was annoying," Jani said.
Jani never reached her full potential at Oregon State. After that one season, she said she lost her love for the game and walked away from her scholarship. Eventually, she left school altogether. She never earned her degree. She regrets those moves to this day, but she also has been able to share those regrets with her children.
"Maybe I wouldn't have been the mother that I am now had I not gone through those experiences," she said. "God had a different plan for me."
Jani and Kurt, a high school teacher and a former coach, have always pushed their children to college, whether they earned an athletic scholarships or not. They are 3-for-3 so far with their children earning degrees, hoping one day to say 5-for-5.
Title IX has helped in the journey toward those degrees -- as well as other life ventures. In college, Breann Sitton played basketball in Europe. Andrea played in the Virgin Islands.
"We would never have been able to take them to those places," Jani said.
Title IX is not just for women.
Kurt met Jani in high school. He was no fool. He supported Jani and women in athletics even back then, in a small town in the 1970s. A former college basketball player himself, he has been able to be a coach to his daughters, as well as become a fan of their games.
"I've benefitted from Title IX. I've enjoyed the opportunities it has allowed me to have with my daughters in the sports world," Kurt said.
Kaitlyn, the youngest daughter at 17, has never known a world were there were no opportunities for her as an athlete. She watched her older siblings excel. Breann and Andrea starred in basketball. Jenna Rae played high school basketball for a couple of years before specializing in volleyball. Kaitlyn decided early on that volleyball was her sport.
All the Sitton children, including Grant, have been go-go-go with practices for one sport or another virtually all of their lives.
Because of this, Kaitlyn has never really had to consider what life was like for her mother and other women athletes back in the day.
Title IX is not necessarily a top priority topic in the high school classrooms. It comes up with administrators or at school board meetings, when there are compliance issues.
Kaitlyn said she had never heard the term Title IX until this month. It is difficult for her to imagine girls being denied opportunities in athletics.
While Kaitlyn might not have known about the official legislation, she and her sisters all heard stories of what it was like for their mother in the 1970s.
Jani always plays that card when she can.
"When they start to complain or whine about something like having too many practices, I would remind them of how I had to sit on a suitcase," Jani said.
"We remind our children many times how blessed they are."