Title IX — the federal law that prevents discrimination based on sex by any education program receiving funds from the federal government — celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The South Carolina softball team is one of many athletics programs that has been positively affected and has seen large changes in equity across the board.
"On the baseline, really without Title IX, we wouldn't be able to go to school, we wouldn't be able to achieve getting a lot of degrees like law school — going to law school or higher education," graduate student pitcher Kelsey Oh said. "So, it's really important, not only on the sport's side, but also the education side."
Playing college softball now has invaluable perks, according to Oh.
"Some of the benefits would be ensuring that we receive equality in the sense of coaches and facilities," Oh said. "And also training and lifting and having a lift coach."
Fifth-year outfielder Katie Prebble said she’s been fortunate to have opportunities “my mom and my aunts haven’t had in the past.”
“My mom actually was the first female in her hometown to play Little League Baseball. So, I really grew up with that foundation of playing with the boys,” Prebble said. “It was never like, ‘Oh, I’m playing with the boys because I want to play better competition.’ I just knew I could beat them, so my mom always put me on those teams and that’s kind of how I raised.”
Prebble said competing with the boys was a positive experience because it built her confidence to the point that she could share it with teammates.
“I know now how I would raise my kids in the future, and how to treat other females on my team,” Prebble said. “If they didn’t have that same experience, I know how to raise their confidence up as well, to make sure that they know they’re capable of more than they ever thought possible.”
With improved facilities and more fan interest, softball is trending in the right direction, according to head coach Beverly Smith.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Smith said. “I think it just speaks to when we make it available, and we can promote women’s sports, people enjoy it.”
The Women’s College World Series had 60% more viewership than the Men's College World Series last year. The women's tournament drew in 1.2 million viewers while the men's tournament averaged 775,000 viewers.
Smith said she thinks television coverage has shined a “bright light” on the game.
“I’ve always thought it’s a great game. It’s exciting. It’s fast paced,” Smith said. “And when people watch it, I think (fans) enjoy watching softball, so I’m not surprised by it.”
Universities and the NCAA need to get behind women's sports, said professor Amanda Paule-Koba, the sport management program director at Bowling Green State University.
“There’s a tremendous ability to generate revenue if you get people to come to these (games) or increase the amount of sponsorship dollars you can get from a variety of different places,” Paule-Koba said.
Even in college baseball, there’s been a tremendous amount of support for their female counterparts.
Each SEC baseball team, including South Carolina, wore 50th anniversary Title IX shirts during batting practice in the first weekend of conference play.
Smith said there has always been a great collaboration in collegiate athletics.
“The fact that men are celebrating Title IX as well, I think it’s great,” Smith said. “You have to remember now, on the men’s side, their mothers, sisters and aunts have all benefited from Title IX, and they probably were athletes themselves, potentially.”
While softball is in a good situation, there will undoubtedly be more done to grow the game. Program veteran Prebble said the sport can continue to grow through community involvement and increasing attendance, leading to more participation in the game.
“The parents that bring the kids out to games, I think that’s huge. And holding camps, the camps that we have, it brings the community together, and I think that’s really important,” Prebble said. “But keeping involved with the community, I think is a really big piece of it."
Just as crucial as community interaction is acknowledging the evolution of player development.
“It’s just mind-blowing how girls have advanced and things have gotten so much better and it’s so exciting,” said Peg Pennepacker, the founder of High School Title IX Consulting Services.
Pennepacker advised future female student-athletes to "stay the course” so they can continue to do what they love.
“When you hit the walls, plow through the wall and keep fighting,” Pennepacker said. “There’s so many women out there who have kept going and kept fighting and kept pursuing their passion and have made a difference.”
Correction (April 14, 2022 at 2:41 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Amanda L. Paule-Koba and incorrectly stated her position within Bowling Green State University. The errors have been corrected.