By Collin Bolebruch
The NCAA and SUNY Plattsburgh are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year. Title IX is a federal civil rights law signed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on gender in educational settings and education-related programs that receive federal funding.
Plattsburgh women’s cross country, ice hockey, soccer, tennis and volleyball teams are recognizing the golden jubilee during games at different points in its seasons. The volleyball team, for example, hosted former Head Coach Lisa Vicencio and raised a banner in celebration of her time with the team.
Interim Title IX Coordinator Ann James said the primary attention around Title IX is with collegiate athletics. Before the passing of Title IX, James said men’s and women’s sports opportunities on campuses were “hugely disparate,” but they’ve “improved greatly” since then. Despite the progress, she said you can still find stories about the lack of gender equity. A recent example was the notable size and quality differences between the men’s and women’s locker rooms at the 2021 NCAA basketball tournaments, as noted by Cheryl Cole, associate athletic director and senior woman administrator.
Current Cardinals are preceded by generations of pioneers and staples of women’s athletics at Plattsburgh. Of the 132 individual members of the Plattsburgh State Athletics Hall of Fame, 45 are women.
Ellen Turkel is one of those women. Turkel arrived on campus in the fall semester of 1972 — just months after Title IX was signed into law. She made history as the first woman to compete in both track and field and cross country.
Turkel experienced her share of teasing throughout her career, but she felt nothing but welcome at Plattsburgh. Growing up, she felt like boys had “more fun,” and Plattsburgh gave her that opportunity. She approached the men’s coach, Tim Hale, and joined the team with “no resistance.”
“I was a kid. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to go to court or anything,” Turkel said. “If I was going to do it, I was going to do it. I mean, all I can do is hang on, keep on running.”
Since her time at Plattsburgh, Turkel has competed in the Boston Marathon, ran in the Olympic trials and now coaches cross country at San Diego City College.
“It’s been my life. It’s my ability to express who I am. I express who I am through movement and then I share that expression with other people who also enjoy it as much as I do,” Turkel said. “It’s who I am.”
Title IX and Plattsburgh athletics allowed her to do this at a high level and it shaped her life, and now she’s using her experience to help shape others’ lives.
Turkel is impressed with the “level” women have “come up to” regarding athleticism. Watching the Olympics, she’s been “delighted” to watch these “amazing athletes.”
She does think there is more to do to ensure fairness between men’s and women’s sports. The first step, she believes, is to distribute funding more evenly. Turkel specifically cited large programs’ high salaries for men’s coaches and the other sports that money could be used to fund.
Cole is also a giant in Plattsburgh women’s sports. She was hired as the women’s basketball head coach in 1997. Now, two years after leaving the position, Cole now holds two administrative positions in the athletics department.
She is a vocal proponent of women’s issues.
Her Twitter account beams support for the release of Brittney Griner — a WNBA player sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison and fined 1 million rubles, or $15,920, for smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil.
Griner was released yesterday.
Cole’s main gig, though, is supporting the women athletes at Plattsburgh.
Cole said there hasn’t been a difference in what men and women athletes receive at Plattsburgh during her time with the school. The “laundry list of things,” including practice facilities, hotels and uniforms, are equal.
She’s never had to fight for anything that “makes sense,” but a number of years ago she experienced a Title IX discrepancy in her mind. The men’s ice hockey team had a full-time assistant coach when no other team did. She and others “made that case” that the women should have one too, and the issue was resolved.
As a player, she feels as if women need to “prove themselves” more than men do.
“Just go out there and be tougher than them. Just go out there and show them, don’t be intimidated,” Cole said. “I always talk to my players. Play against guys. They’re always bigger, stronger, faster because of nature, but it doesn’t mean they’re better basketball players.”
She said more men than women play at pickup basketball sessions, but no one questions whether men can play. Cole said women need to prove themselves to even “be there.”
“No one’s looking to take the opportunity away from the guys,” Cole said. “Women just want the same opportunities.”
The precedent and support set by former and senior Cardinals have resonated with current Cardinals. Alicia Fisher is a graduate student and volleyball player at Plattsburgh. She didn’t play team volleyball until college, but she’s spent the last four seasons in Cardinal Country.
When Fisher first joined the team, she felt as if the team didn’t receive as much attention as the other teams on campus, something she said is consistent through women’s sports. Through her years on campus, she’s proud of the work the team has put in.
“Everybody’s effort to bring their friend and tell people about the games and it’s just building stepping stones for the future,” Fisher said. “I feel like if I came back to a volleyball game five years from now, we’ll have full stands, more hype and more people on the team.”