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June 20, 2012

The next hurdle: Women coaching men's teams

(Continued)

Dunn is a legend in women's basketball for the Olympians she's coached and the powerhouse teams she built at Mississippi, Miami and Purdue. At Purdue she coached the women's basketball team to seven national tournaments before she was fired in 1996, after publicly complaining that her salary was less than half of what the men's basketball coach was making.

Dunn loves coaching and the game of basketball. Even more, she loves what basketball does for the women who play it.

"There something about team sports that builds confidence and self-esteem," Dunn said. "There's something about teamwork – of everybody having to be together and build together to accomplish something great. Where else are you going to get that?"

‘Anything a boy could do – even better’

Research supports Dunn’s conclusion. A University of Pennsylvania study shows young female athletes have a stronger sense of competence and confidence than many of their peers. It also shows female athletes are more likely than non-athletes to abstain from smoking, avoid drugs and graduate from college.

Betsey Stevenson, an economist at Penn’s Wharton School of Business, conducted the study. She also found girls who played sports in high school later got better jobs with higher salaries and were more likely to work in “male-dominated occupations.”

Stevenson has taken her message to Washington. She appeared earlier this year with Olympic gold medalist figure skater Sara Hughes at a Capitol Hill briefing on legislation by New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter requiring high schools to publish their Title IX compliance levels.

The message Stevenson delivered: "When we limit girls’ opportunities to play sports, we aren’t just limiting them as children, we are limiting their entire lives."

Six years after Title IX was enacted in 1972, the percentage of girls in high school playing team sports jumped six-fold, from about 4 percent to 25 percent. Today, two in five high school girls are active in organized sports, according to the National Federation of High School Associations, which tracks participation by gender. There are now 10 times as many female players in intercollegiate sports as there were when Title IX became the law of the land.

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