“One of the reasons I wanted to win that so desperately is because I wanted Title IX not to get weakened… I wanted to change the hearts and minds of the country to believe in Title IX, to believe that women deserve equality.”

—Billie Jean King on her 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs
Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2022

Sue (Yerdon) Lewandowski ’76

The words “played Butler men’s varsity tennis” aren’t a mistake on the resume of Suzanne (Yerdon) Lewandowski ’76. The former top high school player had no other choice: ButlerUniversity didn’t have a women’s tennis team yet.

Mary Jo (Vidal) DeWolf ’75 played every women’s sportButler offered: basketball, volleyball, and field hockey. Players shared uniforms, had no locker rooms, brought equipment from home, and provided their own transportation.

Judy Horst headshot
Judy Horat ’62

Judy Horst ’62 says, “We had no women’s golf team. I was it.” And Barbara (Rice) Greenburg ’64 faced the limits placed on women as both a Butler player and coach.

“The [men’s and women’s] coaches’ responsibilities were so unequal,” Greenburg says. “As a coach, I made the schedule, I made all the travel arrangements, and I got the officials to the game—no one ever assigned officials to any of my games.”

Barb Greenburg headshot
Barb (Rice) Greenburg ’64

Today, thanks to a landmark federal law called Title IX*, women’s sports have come much closer to matching those of men. Butler offers nearly a dozen with dedicated budgets, facilities, equipment, and coaches, and women athletes are regularly awarded letters and inducted into the Butler Athletic Hall of Fame.

To mark the law’s 50th anniversary and honor those fighting for equity in athletics, Butler Magazine talked to these athletes about how the law affected their college sports experience.

Mary Jo (Vidal) DeWolf ’75

Adjusting to Title IX

Lewandowski had intended only to practice with the men’s tennis team but thinks she remembers the coach asking her to compete.

“I just went with the flow. It was fun riding to meets in the van with the guys,” she says. “After an article about me came out in The Butler Collegian, I had my 15 minutes of fame, but there really wasn’t much fanfare.”

‘Riding to meets in the van’ was a novelty for female athletes before Title IX. In fact, “I always wanted to coach long enough to go with my team on a commercial vehicle, but I never made it,” Greenburg says. When she finally got a team vehicle, “It had been a hearse. We named it the Blue Goose. We were finally traveling together, and that added to our spunk!”

The Blue Goose didn’t make things equal, though. When an axle broke, the team had to sit until Greenburg’s husband could get there with his station wagon. In another incident, they’d pulled off the road with a flat tire; a vehicle filled with male Butler players slowed down—and then passed on by.

“We found out later they’d said, ‘Let the [derogatory term] change their own tire,’” Greenburg says. “We got an apology. And had a discussion about Title IX.”

The year without Butler women’s sports

Then came the year that the Butler women boycotted sports. “The other coaches and I decided we wouldn’t coach anymore because we were getting almost no money and had full teaching loads. So when teams from other schools came to Butler, we wouldn’t play them,” Greenburg says.

It was DeWolf’s senior year, 1974–1975.

“We thought we were headed to field hockey practice one day and instead found out the women’s coaches were talking about not playing,” she says. “Butler hadn’t started to come into compliance with Title IX yet, and they thought the only way we could make an impact was to cancel all women’s games that year.”

The players agreed, electing DeWolf to be their spokesperson.

Instead of being angry, visiting teams’ players and coaches supported Butler.

“We were absolutely right in saying ‘this is wrong,’” Greenburg says. “It was a big deal because other schools got involved. So they changed it.”

Greenburg credits Xandra Hamilton ’58, MS ’60, the women’s Athletic Director, for moving Butler in the right direction.

“Xandra did more to get things for girls than anyone. She wanted girls to play on the big floor for basketball and volleyball. She was a fighter for women and the things that got changed.”

Women’s sports move toward parity

Change took time. When Greenburg retired in 1994, her softball recruiting budget was still just $300, and she was the last person at Butler to both teach PE and coach full-time. Four years later, Greenburg became one of the first three women inducted into the Butler Athletic Hall of Fame, receiving a Special Service Award for 30 years of coaching. Sisters Barbara Skinner ’82 and Elizabeth “Liz” Skinner Spencer ’82 were the other two inductees. Women like DeWolf have begun receiving the varsity letters they’d earned so long ago.

“It’s wonderful what Title IX has brought to women’s sport and young girls,” Lewandowski says. “Hard work in grade school and high school can be rewarded with scholarships and sponsorships. What was once impossible is now possible!”

DeWolf had a full-circle moment around the time she received her letter.

“A student in the high school class I teach had received a Butler basketball scholarship. She was being honored at a game in her senior year, so I went. They had cheerleaders! They had the band playing at a girls’ game! They had a crowd, and I started crying. My thought was, ‘Oh my, it was worth it. We changed so much for them.”