In March, Tommi Stockham, then 14 years old, verbally committed to play Division I volleyball for perennial powerhouse University of Southern California. More impressive, the current Bishop Gorman sophomore is slated to play both indoor and beach volleyball for the Trojans—and is reportedly the university’s first student-athlete projected to receive a dual scholarship for both.
Stockham is on track for volleyball greatness, taking into consideration she stays healthy and motivated by her love of the sport. But whether the Vegas native decides to go pursue the pros in the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals league) after college or chooses a different path altogether, her life trajectory has already been transformed.
This summer marks the 45th anniversary of the landmark law that is now simply referred to as Title IX. Meant to prohibit federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against participants in any program or activity based on sex, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments on June 23, 1972. Athletics is where this change has been most visible: There are more than 3 million female high school athletes participating today, a ten-fold increase since 1971. The law also requires colleges to hand out a proportional number of athletic scholarship dollars to female and male student-athletes.
Beyond the benefits afforded by the opportunity to compete—self-confidence, resilience, leadership skills, to name a few—a 2014 Ernst & Young study found that of the businesswomen in the C-suite (think top execs such as CEO and CFO) polled, 94 percent played sports in high school and 52 percent continued through college. That’s a strong correlation of female athletes going on to have success in the boardroom. But Title IX is far from perfect. It disproportionately has left behind minority and underprivileged girls. According to an NCAA report, “Black and Hispanic female student-athletes have experienced slight gains in participation, up 1.1 and 2.8 percentage points, respectively,” in the past 15 years. And because Title IX goes beyond sports, it has become “the basis of complaints against schools charged with not properly responding to the issue of sexual assault,” according to a recent Time magazine article. But its reach is still being felt positively.
Stockham has a few more years before college. When asked about her biggest dream for volleyball, she says, “My senior year, I have the goal to be the Gatorade Player of the Year,” an honor awarded to exceptional high school student-athletes. This is a lofty aspiration, but highly plausible for a player who, as a freshman, led her high school team to its first-ever state championship.
Whatever may come for the young athlete, it’s thanks to Title IX that she gets to live out her dreams on an even playing field.