With or without Title IX, Connie Perez knew she would graduate from Amistad and go on to college.
But without the landmark law, she's not sure what quality of education or career she could have had, or just how many other girls would have been able to go with her.
"You never thought of going to college and playing basketball," said Perez, then Connie Kuper. "I think it just opened up a new avenue for a lot of girls."
Saturday was the 40th birthday of Title IX, a law mandating "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."
While the mandate meant changes at schools, libraries, museums, and even prisons, one of the biggest benefits of the law was the creation of equal opportunities in athletics
Girls athletics were seen, but never discussed or officially a part of school. Carolyn Franklin, a 1965 graduate of Melrose High, called the girls basketball she played "bootlegging" because of the necessity of using loopholes and end-arounds.
"You couldn't charge for a game, you couldn't have a referee ... or you couldn't pay him," Franklin said. "There was a gallon jar at the door to pay officials. We always had an EPAC tournament at the end of the season. We had a winner, but we didn't have a winner because we didn't play. My senior year, we played Lubbock Christian College. We took all comers.
"We wanted to play and felt like we were pretty good. But who knew, because we didn't have a state tournament."
Franklin said Title IX came later, and while it largely benefited girls, it was a law that never would have happened without both genders pushing for change.
Guy Luscombe, a superintendent at Dora High for 25 years, said boys and girls simply didn't have the same opportunities, no matter how much coaches and teachers wanted to do.
"New Mexico at that time, 1962, only had play days for girls," Luscombe said. "There was really no competition between the schools."
Once Title IX came into play, it was a matter of how well the community and school personnel integrated it.
Farwell coach Miles Watters, who coached 11 New Mexico girls basketball champions in Clayton and another in Clovis, said girls athletics felt like a natural progression just as much as a mandate.
"Clayton did start girls basketball my senior year," said Watters, a 1973 graduate of Clayton. "I don't know if that was a Title IX thing, though. There wasn't much talk of Title IX in rural areas."
When Watters coached at his alma mater, "I was really fortunate in Clayton; we had a principal who coached girls basketball. He had two daughters playing for me, so we were pretty proactive (about advancing women's athletics)."
Brenda Stockton, who coached volleyball for 30 years in Portales, said Title IX did create a situation where you essentially built the entire girls athletic program.
"There was work to be done," said Stockton, who spent the spring 1971 semester in Fort Stockton, Texas, before coming to Tatum the following fall. "You were going from the very basics."
Across the country, a lot of young coaches were being handed the keys to the entire athletic program.
When Stockton got to Tatum, the superintendent told her schedules were being prepared for girls basketball, volleyball and track.
Stockton was to order all of the uniforms for varsity, junior varsity and junior high teams, with the only requirement be that the teams look good no matter the expense.
All of those new teams, Stockton said, meant opportunities for those interested in coaching.
"There were a lot of places like Eastern (New Mexico University); I think they had one of the best physical education and coaching departments for men and women," Stockton said. "A lot of the people coming out of Eastern at that time were looking for jobs, and they were well-prepared."
Perez said as an athlete getting the feeling was liberating. The only girls basketball they had played at Amistad was a six-on-six format, where forwards played only offense, guards played only defense, and the coveted "rover" position was the only one allowed to travel between the frontcourt and backcourt.
When Title IX came in, the girls got to play five-on-five. Perez said there was a learning curve, with some girls stopping at the half-court line out of habit.
But it was a small learning curve compared to larger schools that were largely teaching the basic skills of dribbling and passing and looking for participants. Meanwhile, 12 of Amistad's 13 female students joined the basketball team and the 13th was volunteered for manager duties when she declined to play.
"I would say, in reality, the tougher competition was at single-A schools," Perez said, "because we had some form of basketball due to our coaches having a program for us."
The first two years of girls basketball featured San Jon winning in 1973 and Amistad, with Perez regarded as one of the state's top players, winning in 1974 over Clovis. When schools were separated into Classes 1A and 2A, Dora won the 1975 1A title and finished as a runnerup to Melrose in 1976 — one of two championships for Franklin.
"When Title IX came along, we were no longer outlaw," Luscombe said. "We were the goose that laid the golden egg. The small schools had the better programs at that time, because they were the ones that had been dealing with this, more or less."
The law wasn't immediately popular, as Franklin remembered testifying in a 1976 hearing to a New Mexico education department that was fighting the law.
Additionally, cities that would now bend over backwards to host a girls state tournament of any sport didn't think it was worth the effort.
"Nobody wanted to host it," Perez said. "But Eastern said, 'Give it to us, we'll do it.' We stayed at this one little motel across the street from the college. Most of the schools stayed in Clovis."
As more and more schools started up programs and putting money into them, it became a losing fight.
Talented girls were able to use their skills to get a college scholarship, where they either got into coaching and teaching themselves or into another field they never could have envisioned before.
"I think a lot of these girls wouldn't have gone on to college," said Perez, who retired from Logan and is now an elementary teacher in Dalhart, Texas. "I was going no matter what. It just depends on your parents. It gave me a whole different avenue."
Stockton said she didn't think of Title IX as a sweeping law when she was coaching in the early years, but the impact became harder to ignore. Her final volleyball team won the 2000 Class 3A title, and some of those players also took titles later on that school year in basketball and tennis.
Now she sees the impact without even leaving her living room.
"It's something I look at," Stockton said, "and think, 'How lucky was I to be a part of it?' and to be proud to see where all of this has gone. Look what these kids have now. They can play everything, or they can play one sport and really concentrate on it. You look at college athletics, that's changed a lot. It's a big-time business. Women's NCAA basketball is a big business. Volleyball's getting larger. Softball was on TV for weeks for the national tournament."
"Title IX, it's unbelievable what it's done."