The most famous softball player in history calls herself a "Title IX baby."
June 23 is the 40th anniversary of Title IX becoming federal law, and Jennie Finch, given the "famous" moniker by Time magazine in 2008, said this week that she understands what the law has meant to her and countless other girls and women. Statistics show that more than six times as many women compete in college sports now than in 1972, and figures from 2010 (the latest available) show that the 120 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools spent $1.095 billion on women's athletics that academic year.
Finch, 31, played softball at Arizona from 1999-2002, compiling a 119-16 record and helping the Wildcats win the 2001 NCAA title. She also pitched for the United States in the 2004 and '08 Olympics.
Finch says Title IX is "something that needs to be spoken about more often." She says that's necessary because "if you aren't pushing for it, it can be wiped away."
Finch serves as a spokeswoman for the Capital One Cup, given annually to the best all-around men's and women's Division I athletic programs. Capital One awards $200,000 in scholarship money to each winning school, and Finch says the award "shines the light on all sports" and "gives fans another reason to cheer for [their] school."
As part of her tour for the Cup, Finch attended the NCAA Softball Championship in Oklahoma City earlier this month. She credits Title IX with helping softball grow into a bigger sport.
"When I was a freshman and we went to the Series, one game was televised," she said. "When I was a senior, every game was televised live. Now, regular-season games are on TV."
One aspect of this season's Championships troubled her: "These girls should be training for the Olympics right now."
While softball was included in the 2004 and '08 Olympics, it ceased being an Olympic sport after the 2008 Games. Finch said that four years later, "it's becoming a reality that it's not there anymore."
She calls getting softball put back in the Olympics "an uphill battle" and notes that 2020 would be the earliest it could be reinstated. But she also notes that for softball to be included, another sport would have to be removed from the Olympic schedule.
Along with her role with the Capital One Cup, Finch holds numerous softball camps each summer. The camp's motto is "Dream. Believe." That's a phrase Finch credits to her college roommate, Mackenzie Vandergeest. Finch said Vandergeest, who was Finch's catcher at Arizona, is living her dream: She has been a firefighter in Los Angeles for the past five years.
Finch is married to former Arizona pitcher Jesse Daigle, and the couple has two sons, Ace, 6, and Diesel, 1. Finch says Ace just finished his first season of baseball. So, Ace has to be a pitcher, right, considering both his parents played the position and it's obviously the most important position on the diamond? Finch laughed: "It's T-ball [meaning there's no pitching]. He likes to hit."
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Finch also is an author and co-wrote a book released in 2011 called, "Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big and Believe in Yourself."
"It's about how to be the best you can be," she said. "My dad instilled that in me from a young age."
That is in line with the thinking of former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, who served in the Senate from 1963-81, and was the co-author and sponsor of Title IX.
"I may have put words on the piece of paper, but those who made Title IX come alive are the coaches and the players and the parents," Bayh told The Associated Press recently. "All of them participate in giving their daughters the same opportunities as their sons."
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