Margaret Stender has a lasting memory of red suede Converse shoes.
The Chicago Sky’s first employee — named CEO & President of the then newly-formed organization in 2004 — has been the team’s minority owner and chairman since 2019. Stender was a multi-sport athlete at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia in the mid-70’s, not long after the passage of Title IX. In 2022, the civil rights law is celebrating its 50th year in existence. Late in the fall of 1976, the then three-sport intercollegiate athlete remembered a particular basketball practice.
“We were always practicing late in the afternoon and rushing to the dining hall after practice and one evening our coach said ‘Hey, you guys can’t leave too quickly, a shoe salesman is coming … and we’re like, ‘Coach, a shoe salesman? We don’t need any shoes and we don’t have any money, we’ve got to get dinner!’ And she said, ‘No, you guys don’t understand. The university is buying your shoes!'” Stender said. “And we’re like, “Wow, really? That’s awesome.’”
A feeling stuck with her, one that she knows resonated with teammates as well. Before this experience, the university only offered home and away jerseys and shorts.
The team thrived in the aftermath of their university-supplied shoes, and began to get noticed in the campus newspaper and around campus as a whole. Attendance and excitement around the program grew.
“It was a really formative thing for our team because it was a signal that we had been seen,” Stender said. “We were kind of invisible up to that point.”
Stender actively promotes the effects of and opportunities seized as a result of Title IX, as well as the challenges women have faced in relation to the status quo in sports for decades.
Passed in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination, providing a standard that schools and other education-centric, federally-funded programs had to abide by.
WNBA legend, Naperville Central graduate and current Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker is currently involved in a documentary project detailing how Title IX affected the country as a whole, as well as things that advocates say need to change still.
“Things are obviously better but there’s still growth, and things can still get better. I think in particular, respect for what women do,” New Trier (Winnetka) girls basketball coach Teri Rodgers said. “You get the argument that the men’s game brings in more money, well why? Why is that? It’s because typically our society still respects what men do more than what women do and why is that? We need to take a look at that from a societal point of view and value what women do just as much.”
Rodgers, head coach at the Winnetka-located high school since 1997, was among a group of women high school basketball coaches that organized the high school “Grow The Game Tournament” that was played at New Trier and Glenbard West (Glen Elyn) High Schools this past January.
That effort — to host an invite that brought together teams coached by women — is just part of a broader effort by women coaches in the Chicagoland area to promote women’s leadership in the sport of basketball. Additionally, it helps young players see women represented in leadership roles and form new, stronger bonds between those women.
Keisha Newell — varsity girls coach at Mother McAuley (Chicago) and at several other high school and college levels, and graduate Loyola University — said, “It’s a lot different from when I was in school. Creating that equal playing field … we just want equity — that’s what we’re striving for. And while there’s still some disparity as we’ve seen the last couple of years, just like at the NCAA tournament and things like that, I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Newell said resources at the travel, high school and college levels have grown to a great degree since her time as a high school graduate in 2005. She said that the dedication of athletes and all involved at every level of girls and women’s sports has grown in that time.
Rodgers, like Stender, noted that exposure and overall attention paid to the likes of successful women athletes still needs to grow. As a Libertyville High School graduate and longtime Chicagoland resident, Stender has seen just how much top-notch area players grow. She’s also seen players excel locally who were good enough to gain recognition on a national level.
“We’ve had two McDonald’s All-Americans at New Trier, both of them have been girls,” Rodgers said of Jeannie Boehm and Amy Jaeschke. “You ask anybody that and they probably don’t know. I have to wonder if we had a male McDonald’s All-American, would that be more widely known? Things like that, that respect and the recognition. Individual people who work in the schools are great, but that broader audience is who we’re wanting to reach and be respected by.”
Both Newell and Stender said that making young women aware of their potential within and outside the sport was a critical teaching point that comes with the discussion of Title IX’s impact.
“I do want them to see the change that has happened so that they can continue to make even more change,” Rodgers said. “There are things that they are still frustrated about and so … I don’t want them to think ‘Oh, there’s nothing I can do.’ If you see the history of where we used to be and see the growth, you see you can do something, you can make change. That’s what I [want] them to walk away from this [with].”
The Chicago Sky hosted a Title IX panel featuring Candace Parker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno, and Sky minority owner Margaret Stender.
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Kaleb Carter is a Chicago (Rogers Park) resident, originally from Jamestown, Ohio. An Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism graduate and formerly a full-time sports reporter, he now freelance writes on the side and is a special education professional in Highland Park High School District 113. He writes namely for Illinois-Basketball.com (focusing on girls varsity basketball), Journal & Topics Media Group and The Record North Shore.