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June 20, 2012

The next hurdle: Women coaching men's teams

It took a woman to bring men's rugby back to Ithaca College.

Seventeen years ago, the club sport was banned on the upstate New York college campus for the atrocious behavior of its players on and off the field. The team’s “Animal House” reputation stuck so hard it took more than a decade before the private college would even consider reinstating the sport.

The scene changed when a group of male student-athletes recruited Annemarie Farrell, a former women's rugby coach and sports management professor, to coach their team. She agreed, with conditions: a zero-tolerance policy toward hazing and a ban on post-game partying.

Men's rugby returned to Ithaca College in 2009 under her leadership; two years later, Farrell took the undefeated Bombers to the national championship for NCAA Division III club teams.

Forty years after the passage of the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX opened wide the opportunities for girls in sports, few women coach men's college teams. But Farrell, 33, is convinced that's bound to change.

"I'm coaching young men who've grown up on the sidelines watching their mothers play sports, and they've had the experience of seeing their sisters often being the best athlete in the house," Farrell said.

"I'm coaching a generation of male athletes who really don't care about the gender of the person with the whistle."

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX to create a culture of equal opportunity for girls and boys, women and men in the nation’s educational institutions. It barred those schools getting federal dollars from using gender as a reason for exclusion from academics or athletics, and it would mandate that schools divvy up their resources – including dollars spent on sports – more equitably.

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