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Women in Sports: A still-growing game, Portage County girls sports remain on the rise

Title IX was a turning point -- and local girls sports never turned back

By Jonah Rosenblum | Staff Writer Published: July 17, 2017 4:00 AM
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As far as David Dubinsky is concerned, girls high school sports changed with a simple sentence.

As Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 reads, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

More commonly referenced in conversations about college sports, Title IX has had an enormous influence on local high school sports, according to the longtime Southeast softball coach. Prior to Title IX, when he was in high school, Dubinsky said there were few sports for women to play. Title IX changed that.

"It took off after Title IX," Dubinsky said.

If Title IX turned the game around, so did the state, by sanctioning various girls sports and providing an official state tournament for numerous girls sports.

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"That's where it really started to turn around," Dubinsky said. "It came fast. As I remember it, it came fast."

Since then, girls high school sports in Portage County have only continued to grow, according to Dubinsky, who coached for decades at Southeast, retired and then came back for the 2017 season.

"The competition got better and the rewards got better," Dubinsky said. "It's been a tremendous growth over the years."

It's not that women's sports weren't important before. As Windham historian George Belden has painstakingly recorded, Portage County women's basketball drew big crowds on many occasions throughout the early 20th century, even if the game was played under largely different rules than today's game.

Their exploits made "The Speedometer" or "The Sextette" or whatever that year's yearbook was called.

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The 1920 Mantua girls, for example, that won the "Championship Cup" got their picture in the yearbook, and winners and losers alike had their results published in that year's "Speedometer," even if many of those records were incomplete. Mantua Village, for example, in its "partial results" had two games listed. Ravenna had five, including a 25-8 win over Garrettsville.

It wasn't just acknowledging that the games were played. There was deep excitement over women's basketball nearly a century ago.

The Speedometer boldly declared that the 1920 league basketball tournaments, for boys and girls, made Ravenna "the Mecca for basketball fans and enthusiasts from all sections of the county." The tournament, featuring the four-best teams from the boys and girls divisions, was an unparalleled success, according to the yearbook.

"It was a crack quality affair throughout and everyone went home smiling," the Speedometer declared, "the fans because they had witnessed a series of some of the best games ever played on a local floor, and the contestants, winners and losers, because they knew they had put up the best there was in them and that they had found opponents worthy of them in each instance."

Scores were low in those days, with Mantua downing Rootstown, 13-3, in the semifinals in "a rather easy manner," according to The Speedometer, "the superior height and team work of the Mantua girls giving them a decided advantage which the lighter Rootstown team was unable to overcome."

The final between Mantua and Ravenna was far more entertaining, "by far the fastest and most interesting of the girls games," according to the yearbook. Mantua came back from a one-point deficit at the half to win 19-15, thanks to 13 points from its right forward, listed simply as Kuchenbecher.

A half-century prior to Title IX, equality seemed to have been achieved on that gym floor, at least for a moment.

As The Speedometer proudly crowed, "The excitement, enthusiasm and wild cheering knew no bounds or cessation through the battle of the doughty girls, who showed their boy comrades of the sport that there is no sex in the skill and endurances of athletic contests any more than there is in brains. These girls certainly gave a splendid account of themselves and were worthy of the tremendous ovation given them."

Still, a random sampling of Record-Courier sports pages from January 1976 revealed occasional briefs about local girls sporting events, but little more. While various boys high school sporting events garnered big headlines and dramatic pictures, the girls games tended to get a few paragraphs and a box score at most.

On January 15, for example, "Rootstown's 4th quarter explosion" against Mogadore ran next to smaller items like "Woodridge seeks grid opponent" and "Brown eighth-grade cagers stay unbeaten" toward the bottom of the page.

But Portage County girls high school sports would find their way to the top of the page soon enough.

When Dubinsky started coaching softball in 1982 at Southeast, there were only a few teams playing, but a year or two after he took over, the Portage County League was established for softball. If the assumption was that Dubinsky and his comrades were starting from scratch, that wasn't exactly the case.

"There were some tremendous youth coaches and I was able to feed off them over the years," Dubinsky said.

Indeed, current Crestwood softball coach Luke Darrah said the game was starting to revolutionize as he became an assistant softball coach at Kent Roosevelt in 1982.

"At one time, if you were organized, you had a shot to have a good team," Dubinsky said. "Everyone is organized and has a game plan now. These kids are growing up with the game."

Players were increasingly taking lessons outside of practice, Darrah noticed. The games, themselves, were becoming more sophisticated.

"It just wasn't the best athlete on the team that could throw the ball over the plate," Darrah said. "They started throwing different pitches and it wasn't just who could throw it the hardest or the most accurate."

If powerhouses like Tallmadge and Springfield were once head and shoulders above the rest, schools like Crestwood and Southeast are now far more competitive.

"We're competing with these teams that we used to say, 'Oh, this is going to be an interesting day,'" Dubinsky said.

As time has passed and the quality has only gotten better, the crowds have followed. Darrah said he has noticed more and more athletes and ot her students in the stands.

In the old days, he said, pitching dominated. Shutouts, no-hitters and one-hitters were common, as hitters struggled to keep up, and in general, the pitchers might be the only players to work in the offseason.

"They just absolutely dominated," Darrah said. "They're not quite as dominant now, and I think that's because the hitters are getting better."

The amount of work players put in during the offseason has changed dramatically -- for both genders.

"You have to work in the offseason to compete in today's high school softball," Darrah said. "If you don't, you're going to win one to two games a year. You're just not going to have a successful program."

A team like Darrah has now, with every Red Devils player from one to nine seemingly a threat to hit one over the wall, was far from common when he started. It's more common now, and he certainly doesn't expect the arms race of girls high school sports to end anytime soon.

"It's certainly growing and it's going to continue to grow," Darrah said. "Girls are highly involved in all kinds of sporting events now. I don't think that's going to change anytime soon."


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anonymous_3981 Jul 17, 2017 9:30 PM

How many other sports writers have gone back to the Speedometers and Sextettes of 100 years ago to research Portage County female sports? Jonah has brought a long forgotten era back into public view. No should ever forget that today's female athletes are the grandchildren of women who were banned by the OHSAA from competitive athletics. Thank you, Jonah!