Title IX paved the way for Sterling High girls' basketball team's historic 1st championship win

ByDionne Miller via WLS logo
Thursday, March 17, 2022
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Title IX opened the way for the Sterling High School "Golden Girls" historic 1st Illinois state basketball championship and those who came after.

CHICAGO -- In Illinois, many can remember the "Golden Girls" from 1977; the first girl's state championship basketball team. That legendary team and their perfect season were made possibly by Title IX.

Passed by Congress on June 23, 1972, Title IX is only 37 words long: "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."

The law was met by resistance, but also provided opportunity for girls to play the games they loved at levels they never imagined.

Amy Eschleman, now Chicago's first lady, was just 10 years old when Title IX was passed, but it didn't take long for her to realize it was a game changer.

"In elementary school there was a boys team but not a girls team," she recalled.

She was the only freshman on the 1977 Sterling High team, dubbed the "Golden Girls," who put together a perfect season on their way to becoming the first girls state champions in the state of Illinois.

"It was 45 years ago this April, and I remember it like it was yesterday. It felt like our whole town came downstate to support us. It still gives me goosebumps," she said. "We all felt that it gave us these life skills that we never would have gotten if we hadn't gone through that experience."

"I can't really describe the power you have as a kid to put on a uniform with a number that was your number," recalled Melissa Isaacson.

Now a journalism professor at Northwestern University, Isaacson documented her history in the book "State," which tells the story of her transformational hoops career at Niles West High School. She felt the same thing Eschleman did when her Niles West High School girls team won the state championship the following year.

"While we couldn't recite the Title IX law, we all could tell you the moment when we found out we had the state championship, the chills all of us had collectively to go from that, flash forward to that same--in the same gym that we weren't allowed in just four years earlier is something that is indescribable, but will always be inside me," she said.

And while the uniforms don't fit anymore and the pictures have gathered dust, the opportunity truly changed the course of these women's lives.

"It made me feel different about myself. It made me see how important it is to be part of a team. And I credit basketball and sports, organized team sports, for giving that to me and seeing a future, maybe, beyond my little small town," Eschleman said.

"The idea that I could walk into NFL and NBA locker rooms would not in a million years have occurred to me if I hadn't gained that confidence, that self-image, and not just winning the state championship but being allowed to play for it," said Isaacson.

Click here to read more stories from our Fifty/50 series

ABC Owned Television Stations and ABC's Localish present 50 inspiring stories from around the country for Fifty/50, as part of The Walt Disney Company's monumental initiative highlighting the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding, and gave women the equal opportunity to play.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ESPN, Localish and this station.