Sixty-six state championships. In 50 short years, Marian High School has become a powerhouse for women’s athletics, but it wasn’t always this way. Passed in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, Title IX leveled the playing field for women and men’s athletics.
Although Title IX didn’t apply to private schools, it created competition and allowed female athletes a chance at athletic success. However, the beauty of Title IX lies not in the title itself, but in the stories that paved the way.
“The idea of history is for you to appreciate what you have,” current Marian athletic director Rochelle Rohlfs said. “[Title IX] was the initial voice that women have a place in sports.”
“When I went to Marian there were only two opportunities for students to win trophies: Debate and Field Day,” President Mary Higgins ’69, said. “There were virtually no athletic opportunities for Marian students, which sounds inconceivable to current students.”
For years, Field Day served as the only opportunity for students to win a trophy by competing with their class in the school-wide softball game. While Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) leagues existed for young women to pursue sports, they didn’t allow for students to play with their school’s name or mascot on their chest.
“[Students] participated outside of Marian and they didn’t wear a Marian uniform,” Higgins said. “I recall winning an intramural tournament in basketball. It makes me laugh, because the jerseys we wore were pennies, and our numbers were made out of masking tape.” Still Higgins and her teammates continued to play, facing criticism along the way.
“It doesn’t need to be ‘either or.’ It can be ‘and,’” Higgins said. Women venturing into sports faced judgement. “There was a lot of pushback. Many co-ed schools made the argument that they could not afford it,” Higgins said. “They thought it would ruin men’s sports, but I always thought it was important that schools offer both.”
Like many women at this time, Higgins didn’t understand the need to put the two against each other. Not only this, but Higgins wanted more opportunities for young women. “Opportunities for women professionally were not popular,” Higgins said. “There were not many women going into medical school or to law school. We taught typing because many thought women would just be secretaries. Sewing was a wonderful skill, but not college prep.” Unsure of what the future held for sports, student athletes continued to press forward for equality.
“Participating in sports at the time meant we had to raise money,” Roberta Kraus ’71 said. “From bake sales to car washes, we asked people for donations.” At the time, female athletes had to raise money in order to play the sports they loved, unlike male athletes who received funding from the government. “We were known for basketball at the time. So much so that it was easy to raise money, but for other sports, fundraising posed another obstacle,” Kraus said. In spite of the barriers women in sports were faced with, Kraus and her teammates persevered and broke barriers for future female athletes.
“I began my work at Marian in 1974,” previous athletic director Jim Miller said. “Before I got there, golf and tennis were added.” Serving as the first athletic director for 34 years, Miller witnessed the growth of sports for women from their inception. “When I got there, they didn’t have any money for sports. Athletic uniforms had to be sponsored by local businesses. The gym floors were tile. It was all bad,” Miller said.
In his first year, Miller introduced the track program. Several years later he introduced the cross country program. Years after that, soccer and softball were added.
“Athletics are for people to work hard and set goals. Wins and losses are important, but it’s the struggle of trying to get better and playing with other people in cooperation. Sports are a place for athletes to grow as an individual,” Miller said.
An individual in the midst of major reform, Kraus watched the world of sports for women change. “When I graduated from Marian, I had three or four full ride scholarships to play college basketball,” Kraus said. “College is where I saw the most differences.” Kraus went on to attend Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, one of the top three women’s basketball programs in the country at the time. Although the team was not officially in the NCAA, they dominated the women’s basketball scene. Success on the court brought more changes to their women’s collegiate sport programs.
“We didn’t have to share uniforms with the softball team anymore. We didn’t have to wash our own uniforms. We had a trainer that would wash our uniforms. We actually had a locker room. We had food allowances. We were finally allowed to do weight training,” Kraus said. “It sounds silly, but none of this stuff had ever happened before.”
Today, Kraus has a PhD in Sports Psychology and works in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She teaches young women and men across the country mental drills for anxiety, work relaxation, concentration, and visualization. Kraus works with collegiate athletes as well as Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Still, Kraus sees major gender discrepancies.
“I see so many men athletic training women’s teams. I see so many men as strength conditioning coaches,” Kraus said. “It’s still very tough to make it in the role of coaching and officiating in athletics, and I think that female athletes need more role models.” Kraus says women need more representation in athletic coaching and management positions. “As male directors continue to oversee hiring, they tend to hire people like them, which has led to a sharp decrease in representation for women.”
As a first-year member in Marian’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Kraus sees her legacy live on in women’s athletics today. As for the future of women’s sports, Kraus hopes that with recent name, image, and likeness legislation, more female athletes will compete at the collegiate level to make money off of their name. Not only this, but Kraus believes Title IX will need to be revisited in the future for transgender athletes.
Miller, Kraus and Higgins reflect on the 50 years of work poured into women’s athletics and its evolution with awe. Today, Marian is Nebraska’s only Class A college prep school. In 50 years, Marian has become synonymous with athletic and academic excellence. This year alone, nine seniors have already committed to play at the collegiate level next fall. “When I walk up to Marian, knowing what we originally had, when we started athletics there and then what we have now, it’s like walking into another world,” Miller said. “With the new renovations, Marian is going to have first class facilities. I always hoped for that.”
Fifty years later, current athletes cherish the advocates who fought for the initial ruling that women have a place in sports. “I play three sports at Marian,” sophomore McKenna Stover said. “Without them I wouldn’t be able to pursue my passion. Athletics are a huge part of who I am.”
Stover, a current member of the basketball, soccer, and cross country teams, cherishes the work of those who paved the way for female athletes. “Athletes today should not take what they had to work towards for granted and should keep that in mind as we play our sports,” Stover said. “Remember history, remember the hard work and dedication that athletes fought for us to have the sports that we do today.”
Editor Note: Huge thank you to ElleianaGreen for support with this piece.