Title IX 40 for 40: Noreen Morris
Noreen Morris is in her third year as Commissioner of the Northeast Conference, but her experience with college athletics go back to her days as a member of the Cornell women’s soccer team. After a four-year career that saw her serve as co-captain twice, Morris graduated in 1987 with a degree in Consumer Economics. She went on to work for the University of Connecticut, Conference USA and Northwestern University before being named NEC Commissioner in 2009.
What impact has Title IX had on you/college
Commissioner Morris: I have often described myself as a Title IX baby, as those 37 words have served as the foundation for some of the most significant moments in my life. When Title IX was passed in 1972, I was seven years old and the only girl playing in the Westfield Soccer Association. The fact that I was even playing in the league was a tribute to the persistence my parents showed in convincing the leaders of the organization that I should have the same opportunity as my younger brother. Ironically enough, I didn’t have the faintest idea of the significance of my being the only girl in the league, I just saw myself as “one of the team.” Within a few years, as more and more girls participated on the boy’s teams, a girl’s league was formed to provide opportunities to countless more girls.
In 1979, a few of my club teammates and I circulated a petition and spoke in front of the Westfield Board of Education requesting them to add girls soccer as a varsity sport. At that time, field hockey was the only fall team sport option at the junior high and high school levels. One year later, the varsity girls’ soccer team played its first season; and within about five years they won their first state championship.
In 1983, I had the great honor of being a member of the first recruited class for the Cornell women’s soccer team. Being a first-year team, we had to fight for the same benefits provided to the men’s team. Luckily for me, change happened fast at Cornell and in short order we were on the same footing as the men’s team. And change occurred just as quickly at the national level. In 1983 there were approximately 60 college varsity women’s soccer programs, today there are over 970 college varsity women’s soccer programs.
Clearly Title IX has framed my life; not only did it provide amazing personal growth opportunities, but it led me to a professional career that I love. After 24 years in college athletics, I’m proud to be one of just six females who serve as Commissioner of a Division I athletics conference, alongside Robin Harris, the Ivy League Executive Director. Finally, I’m proud to say that Title IX has also directly impacted the campus leadership in the Northeast Conference, where we have three very impressive women serving as Athletic Directors – Marilyn McNeil (Monmouth), Lynn Robinson (Mount St. Mary’s) and Irma Garcia (St. Francis College).
What effects will Title IX have for the younger generation?
Comissioner Morris: As a young girl, I had to fight for the chance to play organized sports, asking “when can I play?” Now, young girls ask a different question, they ask “which sports do I want to play?” Title IX has significantly increased the number and quality of athletic opportunities for girls and women at all levels. But what’s even more exciting to me is the younger generation of athletes has so many more female sports mentors than I ever had as a young girl. Being a strong and tenacious female athlete is no longer judged as unladylike, it’s admired and applauded by boys, girls, men and women alike.
Who was an influential woman in athletics to you and
Commissioner Morris: The most influential woman in athletics to me is not just one person, it’s actually any and all women who were courageous and passionate enough to recognize the importance that athletics can play in the life of young women. There were countless women who paved the way for me to benefit from Title IX and participation in athletics, and even more women that have continued (and continue) to fight for the implementation of the law at all levels. I cannot thank those influential women enough for the doors they opened for me and for all future generations of female athletes.