A panel of female athletes and health professionals reflected Tuesday night on their experiences in sports made possible by the passage of Title IX, which banned gender discrimination in education and athletics over four decades ago.
About 60 people stuffed into the narrow upstairs bar at Johnny's Tavern for the event sponsored by the Lawrence Public Library and Lawrence Magazine.
Lawrence Magazine is published by Sunflower Publishing, which is owned by The World Company. The Lawrence Journal-World is published by The World Company.
Joan Wells, a former physical education teacher and athletics coach at Lawrence High School whose career began in 1971, described how Title IX revolutionized high school girls' sports. By the time total compliance of the law took effect, she said girls' teams were given varsity sports, assistant coaches, state tournaments, increased publicity and more.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of girls enlisted in high school sports since 1972 increased more than tenfold by 2012.
By 1981, she said LHS's first female student received an athletic scholarship.
"We were tremendously affected," Wells said, although she added girls' sports still did not receive all of the same resources that boys' teams had.
Abby Vestal, who became the first full-time female player in the American Professional Football League, detailed her career in the male-dominated sport, which began with a tryout for the LHS team her junior year and ended after a stint with the Kansas Koyotes in 2007.
She described how kids would run up to her after Koyote games asking for autographs.
"I was showing young athletes — not just girls — that no matter what you put your mind to, you can actually do it."
Other panelists included 1989 World Pentathlon Champion Lori Norwood, professional tennis player Kirsty Elliott, health journalist Rhonda LeValdo and physician Amy Hecker. Becky Bridson, a fitness trainer, moderated the event.