by Megan Banta
When Lin Dunn was growing up in Alabama in the 1950s and '60s, state law banned girls from playing sports in junior high and high school.
Dunn, who is now head coach of the WNBA's Indiana Fever, grew up before Title IX passed in 1972.
The law - an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965 - requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. That included sports.
Dunn spoke Thursday night before the Fever game at an event celebrating the 40-year anniversary of Title IX and honoring former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, who co-authored the legislation.
Bayh said when women's groups approached him four decades ago, he agreed to push the legislation because he grew up with strong women in his life, including his grandmother and both his first and second wives.
He said his background "did not prepare me for a world in which women were not equal."
The Fever recognized Bayh at Thursday night's game. But in a ceremony earlier in the evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he joined prominent female professionals and female athletes on a panel to talk about life before and after Title IX.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker was on the panel. Title IX wasn't passed in time for her to play basketball as a youngster but she said it did help her in other ways.
"I was greatly outnumbered in law school," Barker said. Then, "the place you got a job as a woman was with government. They were the only ones that would absorb you without too much controversy."
Barker was serving as a Senate staffer when Title IX passed in 1972. In 1984, then President Ronald Reagan nominated her to a seat on the United State District Court for the Southern Indiana and she became the first female federal judge in Indiana.
She partially attributes her success to riding the "wave of change" that Title IX created.
"That's how I've been able to do many things in my life," she said.
Barker said the law "empowers and encourages women." And Dunn said the law opened the doors "for everybody to do and be whatever they want to be."
For Anna Wagner, who grew up in South Bend and now lives in Indianapolis, the equality provided by Title IX meant that she could play basketball, which had been her dream.
"Basketball was always my first love," Wagner said. "I wanted to be a basketball player when I was in high school and it was never an opportunity for us because we hadn't got there yet."
Before Title IX, girls at Wagner's junior high and high school couldn't play basketball after seventh grade. That changed when Wagner and a friend went to the superintendent with the new legislation to back them up, and they were able to play by the time they entered ninth grade.
"I just feel indebted to you," she told Bayh. "I remember at the time, that was the bill that allowed us to play."
Wagner said that taught her "to stand up for the rights of everyone" and "how to be an advocate for change," something she finds herself still doing today.
"I'm currently an architect, and it's very much not a woman's field by any means," Wagner said. "Even today, I still have to learn to fight and stand up for the rights of women."
Bayh said that will probably always be a reality and that women and other minorities will have to continually stand up for themselves.
"There are always going to be some people who feel that they should have more than their share of opportunity in this country," he said. "The battle of equality is not going to be won by the meek, nor the blind. We have to be eternally vigilant."
Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news web service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.