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Linganore High School volleyball coach Barbara Ferguson said before Title IX, girls did not know what they were missing.

“When you’re that age, you don’t know anything different,” said Ferguson, who graduated from Linganore in 1969. “We were happy, because we didn’t know things could be different.”

Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark legislation that was signed by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. It requires schools that receive federal funding to provide equal opportunity, regardless of gender. The law makes no mention of athletics, but has been widely associated with the rise of female sports participation in high schools and colleges during the past four decades.

“When I was going to school you played field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter, and tennis in the spring. That was it,” said Ferguson, who has coached at Linganore in two stints, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s and again since 2006. “We didn’t have any state championships, or even leagues for that matter. Whichever team won the most regular season games was the county champion.”

By the mid-1970s, when Ferguson began her coaching career, things had begun to change.

In the 1982-83 school year, a decade after the passage of Title IX, Frederick County high schools had just 965 female athletes, according to Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association data. During the 2011-12 school year, there were 3,034 girls playing sports at county schools. Reliable participation statistics for 1972-1982 were not available.

According to the National Federation of State High Schools Associations, female athletes made up just 7.42 percent of the nation’s high school athletes during the 1971-72 school year — 294,015 girls compared to 3.6 million boys.

Fast forward to the 2010-11 school year and female participation had grown to roughly 3.1 million or 41.39 percent of total participants compared to about 4.4 million boys.

“I feel that the county reflects the changes the nation has seen,” Middletown field hockey coach Virginia DuMars wrote in an email. “Female athletic programs are growing stronger because of the law, funding is a bit more equitable [and] ADs see female athletics as needing just as much attention as male athletics.

“Female athletics are seeing more equitable time on practice fields that are shared with male programs. We are also signing more female athletes to collegiate teams with scholarships which is a plus for Frederick County. The support female athletes have seen from the signing of Title IX nation-wide is definitely reflective here in Frederick County.”

In Maryland, the percentage of female athletes at public high schools grew from 33.95 to 42.04 between 1979 and the present year, according to NFHS data, with 47,803 girls playing interscholastic sports in 2011-12.

Ferguson, the Linganore volleyball coach, said one of the biggest differences she attributes to Title IX is the skill level of high school girls entering athletics.

“I coached for 11 years, then I had my son and I took a 20-year hiatus,” Ferguson said. “I saw a huge difference from when I retired from coaching the first time. There are [recreation] and club teams now. That may not all be because of Title IX, because there weren’t any boys rec and club teams either before that, but I’m sure it’s part of the reason.”

Middletown High School Athletic Director Tim Ambrose has seen many changes in the county. He came to Middletown in 1973 as its head football coach, a post he held until 2004.

“Since I have been in the system, we have added softball, boys’ and girls’ swimming, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, volleyball, girls’ soccer, co-ed golf and softball to name the big ones,” Ambrose said. “It is a great time to be a female athlete.

“The money available at the college level is fantastic,” Ambrose added. “Everything’s equal at the college level because of Title IX. There’s much more money put into female sports to equal it out. The last two years, we have had about 10 girls and five boys who signed letters of intent to play college athletics. We have never had that many girls before in a two-year period.

“The increase in women's sports has provided a needed pathway for women, which was not as open as before. There is additional cost, but several of these sports generate money from gate receipts.”

Carlee DuMars (Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, field hockey), Erin Wein (Delaware, lacrosse) and Rebecca Moore (Stevenson University) are a few of this year’s college-bound female athletes from Middletown. Many other athletes from around the county also have signed, including Catoctin’s Tara Woelfel (Gardner Webb, soccer), Walkersville’s Tori Conrad (Delaware, softball) and Frederick’s Lauren Tolson (Richmond, basketball).

Urbana High Athletic Director Kevin Kendro said the county’s 10 public high schools house a total of “26 interscholastic athletic varsity sports affording 15 opportunities for females and 13 opportunities for males to participate in school and county sponsored activities” and that “all FCPS Athletic Directors participate in Title IX training that is run by our Executive Director of Legal Services, as well as take courses through the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators’ Association (NIAAA) with coursework focusing on Title IX and other legal issues. All ten high schools complete an end of the year Title IX self-evaluation as well.”

Those sports offered to female athletes in the county include cheerleading, cross country, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, golf, basketball, indoor track, swimming, lacrosse, tennis and track and field.

“I think Title IX has certainly affected the county in a very positive way,” said Perry Baker, the Frederick County Public Schools athletics supervisor. “We are obviously trying to do everything we can to have equal opportunities for males and females in regards to athletics. Obviously with the passage of the bill, it’s certainly done that. If you take a look at our female sports, we’re certainly having some very positive years.”

Title IX also might have helped girls with their future sports-related careers.

“It’s paved the way for young coaches like me to coach at the high school level,” said Catoctin girls’ basketball coach Amy Entwistle, who played high school basketball at Thomas Johnson and collegiately at Messiah College (Pa.) before returning to the county. “I played high school and college basketball and that would not have happened if not for Title IX.

“Coaches like Pat Summit [the recently retired and highly successful coach at the University of Tennessee] helped create the realm of athletic opportunities. She would not have been able to do that if not for Title IX. I’m extremely thankful for it. I’ve been able to make a career in athletics. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if that had not happened.”

Ken Sain contributed to this report.