As a geometry teacher, Karen Wittkamper brings a unique perspective with her into the classroom.
Wittkamper is in her first year teaching at River Hill High School in Howard County after graduating from Salisbury University in 2011 and Frederick High School four years earlier.
As a two-sport athlete at Frederick, Wittkamper fondly remembers her time playing field hockey and lacrosse, and translates those experiences seamlessly into her classroom.
“We did a whole lesson on the geometry of sports and how you look at the angles on the field. What can you learn about the positioning of the goalie and where somebody should shoot and things like that,” Wittkamper said. “[Students] did a great job of looking at sports in a whole new light. The kids who played sports said it really helped them in their game.”
So too has Wittkamper’s teaching “game” improved, she said, because of her experience playing sports.
Wittkamper, however, might never have been able to learn some of the skills to which she now attributes her success were it not for her opportunity to play team sports in high school. And that is largely because of Title IX, which celebrates its 40th anniversary Saturday.
Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, requires equality for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Athletic budgets must be equal for both boys’ and girls’ sports at high schools and men’s and women’s programs at colleges.
Sue Snyder, who coached field hockey at Middletown High School for 11 years and whose daughter Brittany played Division I lacrosse at the University of New Hampshire, remembers trying out for Towson University’s field hockey team in 1974.
“Back then, being a jock was not cool,” she said. “I was tired of being a jock and tired of being maligned for being a jock. It was a totally different culture then than it is now. Being an athlete became something to be admired.”
Snyder, like Wittkamper, said she has observed how playing sports at the scholastic level can better prepare people for the professional world.
“If you play for coaches who demand commitment, you learn how important that is,” Snyder said. “I do think [people who play sports] will make better employees some day because they understand it’s just not all about them.”
When Wittkamper has to deal with struggling students and their parents during after-school conferences, she said she feels comfortable handing out advice rooted in her athletic endeavors.
“The biggest thing is I’ve had to tell parents who are worried about their kid fitting in or going home and playing video games, is that I told them to sign them up for a sport,” she said. “They ask, ‘Aren’t you concerned that will take up too much time? Bring down academics?’ And I tell them if you’re committed to supporting your child in both, they can succeed. The more you have on your plate, the more you get done.”
Wittkamper, whose mother Valerie is the field hockey coach at Frederick High and was an athletic director in the state of New York after becoming a physical education teacher in 1973, said the experience she gained playing sports helped her physically and mentally.
“I really liked my sports experience. I thought it was fabulous,” she said. “I’m not sure what high school would have been like without it.”