We were the first.



There are firsts in everything. The first baby step. The first kiss. The first car. The first job.


In 1981 women's collegiate teams were officially granted the opportunity to become members of the NCAA - an exclusive men's club that had previously denied women access. It took nine long years after the 1972 Title IX decision before the NCAA finally included women in the organization, congressional legislation requiring equal rights for this disenfranchised group.


But like the Supreme Court ruling in "Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka" there were many stumbles along the way - men's budgets in every sport typically twice as big, women's staffs always smaller, the "weaker sex" getting last shots at practice times and access to the weight room.


Yet the NCAA didn't discriminate, treating men and women equally, with common site championships in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field; a rule book that was applied the same for each sex across the division schools; and equal delegate representation on the Track & Field Committee so women's concerns would be heard.


In practical terms this meant required GPA's were the same, that transfer rules didn't vary, the required number of meets were equal, and eligibility conditions for all athletes were consistent.


Despite this stab at equality there was one issue with "red-shirts" that caught the NCAA by surprise that first year. The rule which gave athletes an extra season of competition due to injury or illness in their 5th year of school.


After Christmas break in 1982 I filled out the one-page NCAA red-shirt form, attached the required documentation from doctors, and got all the university signatures from Drake administrators, putting my "John Henry" on the bottom and mailing it to the NCAA offices in Indianapolis.


Five days later I got a phone call from an NCAA official.


'Is this real?" I furrowed my brows.


"Yes..."


"You're applying for a redshirt because of a pregnancy?"


"Yes..."


"And the reason is..."


"Well, you can hardly expect her to compete while she's four-and-a-half months pregnant."


"Hmm...okay, that's all I needed."


And there it was. An NCAA redshirt for pregnancy. In the forty years that have passed since then I'm certain there have been many other female athletes with this same issue, because the next year they put a box on the form - pregnancy. But we had the first one.


 
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.

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