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Title IX propels OCU to superstardom

Our female student-athletes take nothing for granted – they are confident, they raise the bar, and they are great examples for future generations. -Kelly Perry

The history of OCU athletics is steeped in excellence. From championship performances to facilities to legendary coaches, OCU can arguably be mentioned as one of the most storied athletic programs in all of America.

Who doesn’t have a story about Abe Lemons, or sweating through a winter night inside Fredrickson Fieldhouse? Who has ever watched soccer in Oklahoma and not known Brian Harvey? Or played baseball and not come across someone impacted by either Denney Crabaugh or Keith Lytle? The list goes on, and the success is inspiring, but the most important catalyst to OCU’s prominence happened nowhere near campus back in 1972.

June 23, 1972, was a landmark day in American athletics when “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972” was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. While the language goes deeper, there are 37 words that stand out and summarize the impact of the ground-breaking legislation:

“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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Now, just over 50 years later, perhaps no other school has taken full advantage of the opportunity more than Oklahoma City University. Twelve sports feature female student-athletes, and as OCU teams have acquired a jaw-dropping 72 national championships, even more impressive are the 48 earned by either womens or co-ed teams.

“Our female student-athletes take nothing for granted – they are confident, they raise the bar, and they are great examples for future generations,” said Kelly Perry, OCU’s former associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator, and former student-athlete. “This translates to a lot of success in the classroom and in competition, and I think that culture provides ultimate rationale as to why Title IX was designed.”

The most recent championship appropriately occurred on June 1, 2022, 50 years to the month of Title IX implementation. The OCU softball team won its 11th national title to continue an amazing run to the very top of college softball. Only UCLA at the Division 1 NCAA level has more with 12. In the NAIA, Simon Fraser sits in second place on the all-time list with four.

Bobbi Bridges has been along for quite a bit of that success as a player from 1994-1998, and now as a 16-year assistant coach with the program.

“Title IX opened the door, and I’m so proud of how our program, and really all of OCU’s women’s programs, can be such an example of what any little girl can aspire to be in athletics,” Bridges said. “I can’t imagine growing up and not having a team like OCU softball, or basketball, or any other women’s sport so visible and on a national stage. Title IX was what started it all.”

Softball isn’t the only program that sits atop of the women’s sports mountaintop. The women’s basketball program is number one in NAIA national championships with nine. What’s more, it’s also the third-most successful program, regardless of level and regardless of gender, in all of college basketball. Only the Connecticut women and UCLA men have more national titles, and sitting behind the Stars are Kentucky’s men and Tennessee’s women. Pretty good company in those top five.

Women’s golf also has earned eight national championships, tied with Arizona State for second place on the all-time, all-level chart. Competitive cheer has eight, competitive dance has four, and women’s wrestling does, too. That’s just national championships — not conference, not individuals, and not national runners-up or national appearances. It’s why the ceiling at Abe Lemons Arena can hardly be seen thanks to the banners hanging from the rafters. Conference championships don’t make their way up there at OCU.

In 2007, when the women’s wrestling program was officially added to the roster of OCU varsity programs, it was the first of its kind in Oklahoma and just one of six nationwide. Heading into the 2022-23 academic year, hundreds of young women who wrestle have been given a chance not only to compete, but also to experience an OCU education.

Historical perspective tells us that Title IX was a trailblazer for women’s sports all around the country, no doubt. What we didn’t know was how one school in the middle of Oklahoma would become such a powerhouse among women’s student-athletes. As a new season of competition begins, Henry David Thoreau’s often-repeated quote seems so fitting in relation to those OCU teams and the 50-year-old transformational law: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”

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