Law's legacy apparent for UF women

UF women's basketball coach Amanda Butler is one of many American women whose lives have been impacted by Title IX, a law that seeks to create gender equality in athletics.

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Published: Friday, June 22, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Florida women's basketball coach Amanda Butler was born in 1972, the same year Title IX became law.

In many ways, Butler's life has paralleled the opportunities that women have in sports. She started playing basketball in a fourth-grade youth league in Mount Juliet, Tenn., before becoming a high school star. In 1990, she earned a scholarship to play basketball at Florida.

“I feel very fortunate to be in my age group because I had those opportunities and I do not know what it's like to not have them,” Butler said. “It just gives you a greater appreciation for all of the opportunities that you have.”

Title IX turns 40 today, having been written into federal legislation on June 23, 1972. Today, Butler coaches in an $11 million basketball facility that was built in 2001. The facility is split down the middle, with the same square footage and facilities for the men's and women's programs.

“It's a great demonstration of commitment to all programs at Florida, regardless of where it's a men's team, a women's team, a soccer team or a football team,” Butler said. “There's just great commitment all the way across the board.”

That commitment began in the spring of 1972, when the UF faculty committee approved a proposal written by Dr. Ruth Alexander (Chair of the Department of Physical Education for Women), tennis coach Donna Deutsch, tennis coach Linda Hall Thornton and golf coach Mimi Ryan requesting a women's program for intercollegiate athletics.

The initial sports offered in the 1972-73 school year were golf, gymnastics, swimming and diving, tennis and track & field/cross country. Since then, UF has added basketball (1973), volleyball (started in 1973, re-instituted in 1984), soccer (1995), softball (1997) and lacrosse (2010).

Since 1972-73, the Gators have won 14 national titles (12 NCAA and 2 from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) and 109 Southeastern Conference titles in women's athletics. Florida's 109 SEC women's titles are the most in conference history, followed by Georgia (58), LSU (39) and Tennessee (38).

This past season, Florida women's lacrosse made the NCAA Final Four, while women's tennis won the second of its back-to-back national titles.

Notable Gator alumni in women's athletics include five-time Olympic swimming medalist Dara Torres, women's LPGA pro Page Dunlap, tennis professional Lisa Raymond and U.S. women's soccer standout Abby Wambach. Florida women have won 156 national event titles.

Butler said she had a sense of Florida's commitment to women's athletics when she first arrived on campus as an athlete in 1990.

“I don't ever recall thinking. ‘Oh man, the guys have so much more than us, or this is unfair,'” Butler said. “There was never a sense of that, and in 1990, when I arrived on campus, that was unique, all across the college landscape. And that was great credit to the leadership here, and then obviously when Jeremy (Foley) became athletic director shortly after that things went to another level of equity.”

In Foley's 20 years as athletic director at Florida, the Gators have added women's soccer, women's softball and lacrosse. In 1995, Foley hired Becky Burleigh as women's soccer coach from Berry College. Three years later, Burleigh led Florida to the 1998 national title.

“All of the programs at Florida have the same expectation and are treated with a high priority,” Burleigh said. “That's not always the case at some schools. Our program is not treated with any more or any less respect. And I feel like I'm given the same resources that's needed to win that Billy Donovan has for basketball or Will Muschamp has for football.”

Burleigh and Butler are both hosting camps this week. Both are passing down the message of how important Title IX is, and the sacrifices that others made to provide that opportunity.

Both Burleigh and Butler are optimistic about the next 40 years of women's athletics.

“Will there be 90,000 people cheering at a women's soccer game like there are at football game?” Burleigh asked, rhetorically. “I hope so. I hope I'll be around to see it.”

Said Butler: “I hope we can continue to see things go in a positive direction. And I hope that we do a great job, my age-group of people, of really understanding the responsibility that we have as not just keepers of our own careers, but keepers of our game, and making sure that we are making wise decisions that are going to affect those generations after us.”

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