The United States is marking the 40th anniversary of a law that requires schools using federal funds to provide male and female students with equal opportunities in sports and other programs.
Supporters say Title IX has dramatically increased the number of female athletes in the country, but critics say that has come at a cost, reducing opportunities for young men to compete at the highest level of collegiate sports.
At a recent Washington tournament, America's top high school girls' basketball teams did more than just play the game. They learned about a 40-year-old law that has helped many girls pursue their athletic ambitions.
"Here, we get to play basketball and learn new things," stated Nira Fields, who came from California for the event. "The main thing I learned was equality among sports for the women's and the men's side."
The Title IX act of 1972 says schools receiving federal funds must not discriminate against males or females in programs such as sports. That has led universities to offer more scholarships to female athletes, giving many an education and a chance to compete.
Tina Thompson, the top scorer in the professional Women’s National Basketball Association, says scholarships made university affordable for her.
“I'm one of five children, and so, going to a university like Southern California was something that I probably would not have had the opportunity to go to," Thompson explained. "I mean, I could have picked any school that I wanted to go to in the country, because of Title IX.”
Since Title IX took effect, female U.S. athletes also have had increasing international success. The United States reached the Women’s World Cup final against Japan last year. But there is also some controversy.
Critics say the law actually discriminates against male athletes by pressuring universities to offer them fewer programs in low-profile sports, like wrestling. Many universities have eliminated some men’s teams to cut costs and to make sure they meet Title IX’s requirement for gender balance among programs.
Bryan Hazard, a head wrestling coach at Robinson Secondary School, hosted a tournament in northern Virginia. He says the university wrestling program that attracted him in high school was dropped because of Title IX.
“So, you know, is that fair? To me, it wasn't. I was one of the numbers,” Hazard said.
Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, argues that Title IX effectively imposes gender quotas on schools.
“There are legitimate and real differences between the sexes, and we shouldn't try to paper that over with legislation,” Schaeffer stressed.
Title IX supporters say schools often cut smaller men's sports to maintain expensive American football and basketball programs.
As the law marks its 40th anniversary, those supporters vow to keep fighting for more resources for girls’ sports.