Julie Dickson: Before and After Title IX
June 23 marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the trailblazing 1972 Congressional legislation guaranteeing women equal access to academic and athletic programs. I spoke to Julie Dickson about her coaching experiences before and after the passage of Title IX. She coached field hockey at Manheim Central School District in Pennsylvania, 1964 to 1977, and was head field hockey coach and assistant athletic director at SUNY Brockport and Brown University, 1977 to 1983. Julie recently retired as owner of a State Farm Insurance Agency and now lives full-time in Rehoboth Beach.
How did you decide to become a field hockey coach?
My mother owned a restaurant and I saw her take charge and realized how important her strong work ethic was in being successful. And, the minute I started playing the sport in ninth grade I knew I wanted to be a coach. This led me to teaching since you needed to be a physical education teacher to coach at that time. I coached high school, club, and college field hockey for 25 years.
You started coaching prior to the Title IX era for women’s sports. What was that like?
People often view the 60s as the “good old days” but the early days of girls’ sports were not so good—there was little support and many challenges. During my first season coaching field hockey, I asked the athletic director if I could sponsor a fundraiser so the team could go to summer camp. He said, “No”—only football and band could have fundraisers. Because the boys’ basketball coach wouldn’t share a gym, we were told “no” again when we asked to start a girls’ basketball team. With field hockey, we had no scoreboard, no programs and provided our own scorekeepers and timers. The fields were bumpy, with long grass, which led to a lot of fouls and whistles. The sporting goods stores didn’t sell hockey equipment so we depended on a few entrepreneurs who sold equipment from the trunks of their cars. When the girls finally got shorts and shirts, versus tunics, they didn’t have home and away shirts. The players wore little vests, called pinnies, that went over the head and tied at the waist. Bottom line, you had to speak up and fight to change things, and I did. I’m grateful to my mother for teaching me to stand up for what you believe when you know something is wrong.
Did things get better over the years?
First, it’s important to mention that despite the early challenges, there were many rewarding and positive experiences working with talented, enthusiastic and dedicated young girls who were hungry to play sports. And, it was gratifying to watch many of them take their love of sports to the college level or to play on local club teams.
And, yes, by 1976 there was a new level of interest in girls’ sports. We had strong support from the faculty, administration, local newspaper, and community. For instance, the administration excused students and faculty from school and sent buses to be on the sidelines for our championship game and hundreds of people were on the square when we returned to Manheim with the first state championship.
Was providing more equal opportunities for girls in athletics directly attributable to Title IX as well as the “second wave” feminism in the early 60s?
With Title IX in 1972, the initial changes were really only at schools that cared about girls’ sports. For schools that didn’t offer opportunities for girls, the threat of a lawsuit made administrators take notice. And, sure, cultural norms were changing with the feminist movement as women started to find identities outside staying at home. The Mighty Macs movie, the true story of the 1971-1972 Immaculata College team that came out of nowhere to win the women’s national basketball championship, points to a changing culture.
I recently attended the Disney Field Hockey showcase in Orlando, Florida. I was just stunned at the facilities provided for this competition at ESPN World of Sports. There were 3000 high school field hockey players, 14-19 years old, competing on 27 fields with scoreboards, lights, bleachers and grass-like golf greens. College coaches from across the US were observing and recruiting. Vendors lined the area selling every type of field hockey accessory. The setting gave whole new meaning to—“We’ve come a long way!”
How did you get recruited as head coach of women’s field hockey at Brown?
Brown was looking for a coach to turn around its women’s field hockey program—so they could be competitive in the Ivy League athletic conference. It took several years to do so, with wins arriving in our 1983 season including major upsets over the traditional power houses, Harvard and Princeton. My assistant coaches took over the team when I left and won the Ivy Championship the next year.
How much pressure were you under to produce winning teams?
Brown finished at the bottom of the league when I started in 1979, with a season of nine weeks. People wonder what a college coach does the rest of the year. Well, you are looking at tape, going on the road to look at players, talking to players and trying to recruit them. Also, remember that you are competing among other NCAA Division 1 schools for the same players. Brown did not offer full scholarships, so aid was based on need, or the student had to qualify based on their parent’s income. Competing colleges could offer scholarships. So, yes it was stressful, but my experiences at Brown and Manheim gave me a valuable base for the rest of my professional life.
Good coaches come in all sizes—some play the sport well others can’t. What character features make for a good coach?
You don’t have to play well, that’s for sure. Organizational skills are very important, and a “business plan”—a goal of what you want to accomplish, making the most of every practice, surrounding yourself with really good people and delegating to assistant coaches. You need to pick people’s brains and learn from other coaches. If they are successful—think about what they are doing right and incorporate it. The buck stops with the head coach.
Does playing sports at a highly competitive level require personal sacrifice?
Yes. As a coach I had to be honest, telling players that they’d be participating in intense training requiring a high degree of time management skills. Training time could not come from academic time; it would come out of social time. So you are telling young women that to play competitive sports they won’t have a lot of time to hang out, or go to parties on the weekends. They have to be willing to give that up.
What was your proudest movement as a coach?
Winning the high school state championship was a milestone, but I am most proud of my former players and assistant coaches who have had successful careers coaching field hockey.