SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sandy Jerstad was told once that anyone could coach women’s volleyball.

The retired Augustana softball coach and professor knew that wasn’t true but just a few years after Title IX was approved, Jerstad was coaching volleyball. She had one volleyball instruction class on which to base her coaching.

She learned and coached for several years.

The attitude in those early years is different from today, Jerstad said. “They didn’t care who coached the sport, they just wanted somebody to fill the position,” she said of women’s sports.

Jerstad said eventually women’s programs grew, along with the attitude of administration and colleges, in the successive years.

Title IX prohibits federally funded educational institutions, from elementary to university levels, from discriminating against students or employees based on sex and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972.

Title IX changed the landscape of women’s sports forever as it provided guaranteed opportunities for high school girls and college women.

The national participation rate in sports for high school girls is greater than 11 times what it was when Title IX was passed, according to the NCAA’s Title IX 50th Anniversary study.

When Title IX was passed, one in 27 girls played sports. That ratio was 1 in 5 in 2016, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

For years, people told Myrna Becker it’s too bad she wasn’t a boy. Becker was a competitive athlete who played years of neighborhood ball games with the boys.

But when she reached high school, Becker was placed on the sidelines. There wasn’t a high school girls basketball team until her junior year in Doland. Even then they played only eight games.

Sports teams were for high school boys and college men.

“I loved to play. The competitiveness and there was this rage burning down deep to prove myself,” Becker said. “I just wanted to play.”

If men had the opportunity edge in high school, they even more so had in college.

“It never entered my mind,” Becker said of playing basketball in college.

Myrna Becker as a player at Northern State College. She played from 1976-1980. Photo courtesy of Myrna Becker.

After being encouraged by her dad and a high school referee, Becker joined the women’s basketball team at then Northern State College. It changed her life.

And she feels fortunate that she was able to gain from Title IX even if it was a program in its infancy.

“I feel so bad all those women who couldn’t (participate in sports),” Becker said.

Jerstad was one of those women who couldn’t play sports in high school or college.

Jerstad grew up in northern Minnesota. She played hockey, baseball, basketball and other sports but none of it within a school program. She couldn’t. She was a girl.

Skip ahead to 1977 after Jerstad and her family moved to Sioux Falls when her husband Mark took the chaplain’s position at Augustana.

Her husband heard the college needed a women’s softball coach and volunteered his wife. Jerstad had spent one season as an assistant softball coach at a community college in International Falls, Minnesota.

Although Augustana had a women’s softball program the program was young and the investment was minimal.

“We had very little in the way of equipment. We had no uniforms. The kids had to buy their own shirts so we all looked alike,” Jerstad said.

Like many other Augustana sports teams, the softball team played on an off-campus site. Jerstad said she butted heads more than once with Sioux Falls city officials who questioned why she never contacted them when she’d practice on city-owned softball fields.

Eventually, the city and Jerstad reached an agreement. Sherman Park became the site of Augustana softball games.

Retired Augustana softball coach Sandy Jerstad stands by a wall of memorabilia in her home in Sioux Falls. KELOLAND photo

She was hired full-time in 1977-1978. Jerstad taught whatever classes the college wanted her to teach and coached whatever sport the administration asked.

Jerstad built Augustana softball into, first, an NAIA powerhouse and then, an NCAA Division II powerhouse. Her team won the National Championship in 1991.

But Jerstad was still a coach of a women’s sport.

“I had to do everything. Line the fields, do all the coaching. Drive the van,” she said. “I had to do all the planning, organize the playing field, get what umpires we need and especially the recruiting.”

Today’s programs have multiple assistant coaches. Women’s basketball programs, for example at the Division I level, have directors of operations who handle some of the scheduling duties.

“There were only two women full-time in the department,” Jerstad of the 1980s.

The ground gained by women in sports can be traced to Title IX and those who participated early such as Becker and Jerstad.

Wachs Arena at Northern State University. NSU photo

Terri Holmes, the senior associate athletic director/compliance/ senior women’s administrator at Northern State University, played two years of sports at Black Hills University. Her path in the administrative level was well-thought-out.

“It was very deliberate because I wanted to take the next step, I did not want to take a step down,” Holmes said. “I wanted to be valued for what I did.”

Holmes found a supportive environment working in a high school in Florida, a community college in Valencia, Florida, the former university in Huron, S.D. and now, NSU.

The women who came before her helped to create that supportive environment, Holmes said.

In her role at NSU, Holmes focuses on Title IX and athletics “to make sure all teams have exactly what they need.”

Holmes helps to ensure that uniforms, budgets, scholarships and other items are in line with enrollment and Title IX.

The NSU women play basketball in the same facility as the men. Both teams travel in coach buses. And scholarships and budgets must meet Title IX regulations.

“It’s amazing the facilities they have now,” Becker said of NSU sports facilities on campus.

From 1976-1980, only the men played at the Aberdeen civics arena.

“If we got to play there before the guys game, it was a big deal,” Becker said. “You felt the (women’s) program was moving ahead. It should have happened more than it did.”

Kim Kouri played softball at Augustana from 1988 to 1991. She was a member of the 1991 national championship team.

Because of Title IX and the women who played college sports before her, there were scholarships for female athletes when she got to college.

Myrna Becker

Becker said she was aware she was creating a path, even at the expense of athletes who were on the team before she arrived in 1976.

“I respect and appreciate those who (came) before me,” Becker said. “I was a little freshman and we were taking their places on the team.”

Becker was determined to be a female athlete and not a “jock” modeled after male athletes. She and her teammates wanted to be role models for other female athletes.

And they wanted to win.

Winning teams gain respect and support, Jerstad, Kouri, Holmes and Becker said.

“You win and are successful, people start to notice that,” Kouri said.

But even winning does not guarantee complete respect.

Just before 1991, Jerstad said she and the baseball coach were told they would be getting new stadiums if they raised the money themselves. One catch, they could not contact any existing athletic or foundation boosters, she said.

Jerstad raised the money.

“We got our first field in 1991. That was a big deal,” Kouri said.

The team raked and installed the infield surface and planted grass, Jerstad said.

“One of our teammate’s fathers had a construction company in Minneapolis. He came down and built the dugouts,” Kouri said. “That’s not something that would normally happen.”

Nearly 30 years later, Augustana is building a new softball field on campus.

Kouri and Jerstad are pleased about the new softball field.

That field along with other improvement in women’s sports programs across the country show that Title IX is working, they said.

Fifty years after Title IX, the Summit League women’s basketball tournament in Sioux Falls draws a crowd and ESPN broadcasts the women’s college national softball tournament.

That’s miles away from when Jerstad drove a van with a top speed of 50 mph or when Becker was told only boys had full sports opportunities.

Becker said her own daughter who participated in track and field at South Dakota State University is not completely aware of the sacrifices and strides made by athletes who played before her.

Even today’s coaches are not fully aware, Jerstad said. “They don’t get it but there are so many new people now,” she said.

Despite the improvements, none of the four former athletes and coaches are comfortable, even in 2022.

“We’ve made great strides but we still have a long ways to go,” Holmes said

More women need to be administrators in athletics, she said.

The NCAA’s Title IX 50th anniversary report said women hold about 25% of all NCAA head coaching and athletics director positions and 30% of conference commissioner positions.

When Pierre hired NSU graduate and student athlete Brianna Kusler as its boys basketball head coach it was a step forward in hiring the best candidate for the job, Holmes said.

“The conversations are still out there that Title IX is taking away from men’s sports and that’s just not the case,” Kouri said.

A 2012 report on the 40th Anniversary of Title IX said men’s sports gained from Title IX with a net gain of 1,000 sports from 1988 to 2011.

Former President George W. Bush formed a commission to examine if Title IX was taking money away from men’s wrestling programs, Jerstand said. There were threats to take the teeth out of Title IX, she said.

The commission found that Title IX was not harming men’s wrestling programs, Jerstad said.

When coaching pay, overall marketing and other areas are considered, progress still needs to be made, Kouri said.

“Women will always be fighting to stay on top and not be shoved to the back,” Becker said. “They must always be on guard.”

“It’s so much different and better than it used to be,” Jerstad said. Yet, “we’re still not there” when it comes to full equity and equality.