Congratulations to the Journal for its excellent series commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX in New Mexico (read it on ABQJournal.com; click on Sports and scroll down to Title IX). Another important and equally old story is the struggle of Nancy Lopez and her ACLU attorney, Roberta Cooper Ramo, to change the policy of the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) and allow Lopez to perform. on the Goddard High School boys’ golf team in Roswell. .
The NMAA had said that if Lopez played on the men’s team, Goddard’s teams would be banned from all state-sponsored activities, including group competitions. Ramo argued that the NMAA’s policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it granted less than equal rights to taxpayers with daughters.
Few New Mexicans were on Nancy’s side. “You can let her play, but there’s not a boy in the state who can’t beat her,” said one of the state’s high school coaches.
The NMAA may have been told by its attorney that there may be additional new equal protection in state and federal laws for female school athletes after NM voters approved the Equal Opportunity Amendment. state rights in November 1972. He may also have been aware of the new Title IX mandate that year for gender equity in schools that received federal funding. The NMAA agreed to a new state rule that allowed girls to play on boys’ teams for non-contact sports, including tennis and golf.
Lopez graduated from Goddard in 1975 with a full scholarship to the University of Tulsa. She won 11 of 19 tournaments during her freshman and sophomore years, then joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1977. The July 1978 Sports Illustrated cover story was titled “The Name of the game, Nancy Lopez”. I remember watching an LPGA game on TV and hearing the sportscaster say that his cameraman was in love with Nancy Lopez, and a co-worker said, “Everybody’s in love with Nancy Lopez.”
Few people in the state had publicly supported Lopez’s struggle in 1972, but just two years later, when high school student Sally Gutierrez wanted to play on her town’s varsity football team in Quemado, it was a another story. It made national news, and one newspaper described Quemado as “a short punt from the Arizona border.” The NMAA changed its policy to allow girls to play contact sports, and Sally Gutierrez was nominated to attend the US Air Force Academy after graduating from high school.
Changes in federal and state law for 50 years now in the early 1970s created opportunities for Nancy Lopez and Sally Gutierrez to prove that there were young female athletes who could compete against young males. Perhaps more importantly, they gave us the opportunity to see what these talented and tenacious young athletes could actually do – if we just let them play.
Tasia Young served as director of the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women from 1975 to 1985. She wrote a book on gender equity in New Mexico during those years.