From Casual Athletes to NCAA Champs: How Many Will Follow?

Twins Ashley and Courtney Koester were training for a marathon in the fall of their sophomore year at Northwestern University when a stranger approached them and asked if they were interested in playing lacrosse for the school's new varsity team.

"We politely declined because we didn't think it was for us," Ashley, now 23, says. "I'd never seen a lacrosse game or a lacrosse stick or anything because we're from Indiana and it really doesn't exist there."

But the stranger, Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, was persistent. She had been given the daunting task of starting a lacrosse program from scratch and saw a latent talent in Ashley and Courtney. In November 2002, she gave them lacrosse sticks to take home over the Thanksgiving break -- just to try.

"When we took the sticks home, it really reinforced how fun the game was and what a challenge it would be to learn this sport," Ashley says.

The twins are now part of the 2005 NCAA national women's lacrosse championship team, which made history in May when it defeated defending champion, The University of Virginia, 13-10, to become the first squad outside of the East to win the sport's NCAA crown.

"I wouldn't give it up for the world," says Courtney of her lacrosse experience. She originally walked on to the basketball team as a freshman, but quit because she felt it was consuming all her time. "I'm just so lucky that one, Kelly stopped me on the street and two convinced me to play because I was so close to turning it down."

NCAA Senior Vice President for Championships and Education Services Judy Sweet holds the Koesters up as two of the shining successes of Title IX, and a perfect reason a recent clarification of Title IX issued by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in March should be amended, if not rescinded.

The guidelines advise schools that they can use an e-mail survey to gauge the athletic interest of the student body. If results show that members of the underrepresented gender (usually women) are not interested in certain sports, schools do not have to provide athletic opportunities in that sport but will still be in compliance with Title IX, the 1972 law that bans discrimination in education -- including sports programs at schools and universities -- based on gender. To read about use of surveys in high schools, Click Here.

"Those of us on campuses know full well that students don't respond to e-mail surveys," says Sweet. "The greatest weakness is that this approach indicates a lack of response is going to be interpreted as a lack of interest."

Even if the Koesters had responded to the survey as freshmen, they would not have said they were interested in lacrosse.

"I'd have given it a zero interest, none at all," Ashley said. "I'd never seen [lacrosse]; it was something I had never been around before."

Which, according to Sweet and others, is precisely one of the main functions of Title IX.

"Because of the historical biases, females have not been encouraged to develop interest in sports in the same way males have and certainly not prior to Title IX," Sweet said via e-mail. "The dramatic increase in the numbers of girls and women participating in sports in the last 33 years shows what happened when females are encouraged and supported rather than discouraged and denied."

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