IX at 50: Washburn’s Patty Dick spends a lifetime fighting for equality on the court

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 11:09 PM CDT
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June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Every Thursday at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game in the last half century — the Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas.

“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Patty Dick was in sixth grade when she noticed the boys got to play basketball at lunchtime.

“And I wondered why girls didn’t get to play,” she remembers. “So I went to our principal and asked him why girls didn’t get to play. He said, ‘Well, you can play. You organize it, and you can play during lunchtime.’ And I thought at that time, ‘Wow, that was easy.’”

Little did she know, it was the beginning of a lifelong fight.

Patty graduated from Highland Park High School in 1967, where the only sport for girls was gymnastics.

“So I guess as long as you were tiny and pretty, then you got to compete,” she said. “But that left a lot of us out.”

She enrolled at Washburn that fall. All they offered women were field hockey “play days” — but the storm was brewing as women demanded more opportunities to play college sports.

“Things were going pretty fast in those years,” Patty said. “We played volleyball my sophomore year, and so we had field hockey and volleyball. My junior year they added basketball and softball. It was awesome to play, but the battle was ahead.”

Washburn’s women’s teams had far fewer resources than their male counterparts.

“We didn’t have uniforms, we didn’t have facilities, our coaches were not prepared to coach because this is all new to them too, had no scholarships,” she said. “We had to pay for our meals on road trips. We had to drive the car to road trips.”

The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was founded in 1971 to govern collegiate women’s athletics.

Patty joined an AIAW student group. They wrote letters to congressmen and President Nixon’s health, education and welfare secretary, demanding more accountability in Title IX compliance.

“Coaches wanted to keep us separated from the politics of it, and we wanted to jump right in, I remember that,” she said. “And we did. We jumped in and I can remember coaches trying to slow us down a little bit, but we were in it for the long haul.”

Things didn’t change immediately when the ink of Nixon’s signature on Title IX dried in 1972. Patty recalls standing alongside other women calling for change as Kansas State held the AIAW Women’s Basketball Tournament in 1974.

“We carried signs at halftime, and I thought, “It had already passed, so why were we carrying signs?’” Patty said. “Well, then going back and reading I found that Title IX was not mandated for compliance until 1978. So there’s six years in there that there were lawsuits going on, and congressional leaders were saying that Title IX didn’t mean sports.”

After college, she started her coaching career at Washburn Rural High School coaching basketball, volleyball, track and gymnastics.

“Our basketball team, we wore gym suits and I put book binding tape on the back for numbers, and had to reapply those after you washed them,” she remembers. “I washed all the clothes and towels, pulled out the bleachers, got ticket takers, the whole shebang. Pretty much nothing was provided. My salary doubled every year, from zero to zero.”

Her teams also struggled to get gym time, but Patty found creative solutions to get her players to practice.

“We were pretty much last on the totem pole,” she said. “I can remember driving a little short school bus and picking up my players at 5:30 in the morning in the country to get them to practice at one of the elementary school gyms.”

In 1977, she accepted the head basketball coaching job at her alma mater.

“We had no scholarships. Facilities were a problem again,” she said. “Pretty much just the same things at the high school level, because Title IX had no teeth.”

It took six more years before Patty offered her first full-ride scholarship to a player.

“Things really moved slowly,” she said. “We really weren’t looked on as a real positive force. We were kind of ‘nagging women,’ I guess.”

By the mid-90s, she was up to 12 scholarships — and seeing other changes.

“We got an increase in our recruiting budget,” Patty said. “We alternated practice times, so we could practice at 3:30 instead of 5:30, and alternated gyms so we got to practice in Lee Arena where we played and not exclusively in Whiting. So those were pretty major changes.”

Patty expanded her advocacy for women’s athletics to a national position.

“I was on the national committee for Division II women’s basketball, and we would meet every year with our NCAA rep and go over some of the things that we saw that needed to be corrected,” she recalls. “Our per diem going to national tournaments were not equal to the men, travel party wasn’t equal. So those things were remedied the next year, which really felt good.”

She remembers one year, the Washburn men’s and women’s teams both won NCAA Regional championships. The men got a trophy.

The women?

“We got nothing,” she said. “Well, that was corrected the next year. I often wonder, if both of our team’s hadn’t have won the same championship that year, when would women have gotten a trophy for that? So just little things like that that were really irritating that they could have done, they were already doing for men and they could have done it, but we had to have a committee of women get that taken care of. That’s why it’s so important to have women in leadership positions, and we have a long way to go in that respect.”

Patty retired from Washburn in 2000 with equal pay to the men’s coach.

She coached five of her last 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament with trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four — a stark difference from her playing days pre-Title IX.

“If we didn’t have ten players, we practiced against chairs,” Patty said of her playing career. “We set out chairs and maneuvered around chairs. That went from that, to going to national tournaments consistently. So quite a jump there.”

Washburn honored her accomplishments with a place in their Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.

She says she didn’t get there alone.

“My grade school principal, my junior high P.E. teacher, the women at Washburn that were so tremendous and worked so hard every day — all those people that contributed to where we were at that time. I just carried that on,” she said. “Our hearts and souls were in this.”

The fight for equality on the hardwood continues, but thanks to women like Patty, girls grow up knowing there’s a spot for them on the court at lunchtime.

“Don’t hold back,” she said. “You have to have courage. Really have to be courageous. And keep fighting for what’s right: equal rights under the law.”

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