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June 20, 2012

Time hasn’t ended legal furor over Title IX

Forty years ago, Congress debated legislation to ban discrimination against women in education while Marissa Pollick fought for the right to play on her Michigan high school tennis team despite a state law barring girls from varsity sports.

It took a court order to overturn the law and allow Pollick to compete. She became a top-ranked tennis player in the state, and because that debate in Washington led to the 1972 equal-rights law known as Title IX, she also became one of the first women to receive an athletic scholarship from the University of Michigan.

But that's only part of the story.

When Pollick arrived on the Michigan campus in 1974, university administrators were at war with the new law. They feared it would divert precious scholarship money and diminish or kill men’s sports.

Title IX mandated equal access to university resources as well as participation in sports. But Michigan's women athletes were often left begging; during Pollick's years as an undergrad, the Michigan women's swim team sold apples outside the football stadium for gas money to travel to their meets.

Pollick said the hostility to the law was evident. As a freshman, she said she won the first of her four varsity letters but instead of getting the much-coveted big block “M” sported by the men, she was handed a cheap knock-off.

"It was so insulting," Pollick recalls now. "It was just another example of how differently we were treated from our male counterparts."

She turned the insult to inspiration. Pollick went on to study law at Michigan and now specializes in suing schools that fail to comply with Title IX.

"After all these years, there are still some school administrators – sometimes all the way up to the university president – who have no intention of complying with the law," Pollick said.

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