Meet Minnesota girls sports trailblazers, 50 years after Title IX

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, federal legislation passed in June of 1972 which, among other things, required sports opportunities for girls be equal with the boys.

Some of those first “trailblazers” from the 1970s are now close to 70 years old.

Minnesota was already ahead of the curve on girls sports participation: There was organized girls swimming up on the Iron Range starting in the 1920s, and girls basketball in Minnesota dates back to the late 1800s. But there were no sanctioned state tournaments for girls until 1972, when Title IX changed everything.

Dorothy McIntyre is regarded as the matriarch of girls sports in Minnesota. Hired by the State High School League in 1970, it was her job to drive the bus for girls sports.

“When we sat down in 1969, in some places we weren’t always welcome, but we stayed until they understood we are welcome,” McIntyre said.

Lots of meetings, conversations and convincing resulted in the adoption of the girls athletic bylaws by the Minnesota State High School League in 1969. And when Title IX followed in 1972, it was full steam ahead for girls sports.

Change was slow; too slow for Glencoe girls basketball coach Janet Willand, who started the Eagles’ program from scratch in the 1960s. She remembers wanting to take her team to the metro for a scrimmage.

“‘I need somebody to drive the bus. Oh, you can’t go,'” Willand recalls behind told. “I said, ‘All the boys go every Saturday. Why can’t I go?’ ‘Well, you just can’t go get yourself a bus driver’s license.’ ‘Oh, really, Jerry? That’s what I need.’ Took me two weeks.”

Jerry Style was at the other end of that conversation; he was the Glencoe Athletic Director, and Janet’s good friend.

“That was the end of it. Took the bus anytime I wanted to,” Willand said.

“You know, it upset the boys. Yeah. Of course, we were stepping in their territory,” said Susan Alstrom, a star athlete for International Falls High School in the early 1970s. She won the first-ever gold medal in a sanctioned girls state championship of any kind in Minnesota: state track in 1972.

“It changed my life entirely,” Alstrom said. “Well, I was thinking about going pre-med. And after that, I’m like, you know, I’ve got to do something where as many girls can get this opportunity as possible. So I kind of changed my whole major and my whole focus in life.”

She certainly did, Susan recently retired from a 34-year girls coaching career at Buffalo Lake-Hector High School.

When sanctioned girls sports became a reality, so did the idea of competition.

“I think that was particularly important for me as a girl to learn how to compete because there was a part of me that thought it wasn’t a polite, you know, that that’s not you know, that’s not civilized. That’s not how girls and women are supposed to be in our society,” said Maragret Chutich.

It was a lot to take in, but girls like Chutich from Anoka, who won state tennis in 1975, found that eye of the Tiger. She later turned her athletic focus into a law degree, and is now a Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Back to Glencoe, and Janet Willand’s team, they won the first-ever girls fall state basketball championship in 1974.

Sue Bautch played for Janet at Glencoe and remembers the feeling. 

“The community really backed us for being girls, you know, athletics,” Bautch said. “And so we were just, I mean, I was just experiencing.”

“We knew that our young women had the abilities and the interest and they would get better given a chance,” McIntyre said. 

Read below for the stories of these trailblazing women in Minnesota sports:

Margaret Chutich

As her scrap book pictures show, Margaret Chutich was good enough to compete in organized tennis in the early 1970s, but back then, her only option was to play on the Anoka boys team.

“In ninth grade when I was still in junior high and in 10th grade, I played on the boys tennis team,” Chutich explained. “I was a little uneasy about being a girl playing on the boys team, so I wanted to show that I was a girl. And then I think there was a little bit of feeling of, hey, guy, I’m wearing a skirt and I’m going to beat you.”

Everything changed in 1974, thanks to Title IX. Margaret left the boys team and began playing for the Anoka girls tennis team, and the rest is history.

Margaret, or Peggy as she was known back then, won the 1975 girls state tennis singles championship, having finished runner-up the year before.

She still wears her Anoka letter jacket with pride.

“You know, I honestly didn’t (feel like a trailblazer),” Chutich said. “I mean, I sort of did when I was playing on the boys team because that was unusual.”

What’s not unusual is where her athletic talent came from. As it turns out, “trailblazer” runs in the Chutich family. Margaret’s grandmother lettered in women’s field hockey at the University of Minnesota in 1923.

“Oh, my grandmother meant the world to me. I’m named after her,” Chutich said. “That’s where I think a lot of my athletic ability came from. She was just a firecracker. I know for me personally I’ve grown so much through athletics just in a sense of self satisfaction in what I can accomplish,” she said.

Fast forward to close to 50 years later, and Margaret’s still on the court, but now she wears a robe and helps decide the most important legal cases in Minnesota as a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

One could argue, Title IX, providing more and equal opportunities for girls, helped her earn her seat on the bench.

“I’m working with my colleagues on the court to try and arrive at good decisions, and it’s helpful to have had that experience of working with other people to achieve a goal,” Chutich said.

Margaret says her sports experience at Anoka was a really good one. She said they had equal facilities and nice uniforms. Like a lot of girls in the early to mid 1970s, she was just happy to play and compete, not realizing she was creating quite a path for others to follow.

Janet Willand and Sue Bautch

Janet Willand started the Glencoe girls basketball program from scratch in the 1960s.

“There was $25,000 in the boys’ budget,” Willand recalls. “But that was for all the sports. There was $0 in the girls budget.”

That didn’t mean Jerry Style, the Glencoe athletic director didn’t care about girls sports, he did. But Title IX forced him, and others like him, to put girls sports on equal footing with the boys.

“One day he told me, ‘You know the girls are never going to be in the gym in winter,'” Willand remembers. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that statement as long as I live.”

Back then, girls basketball was split. Teams in western Minnesota, especially along Highway 212 west of the metro, played in the fall because of available gym space. No conflict with the boys. But girls basketball was played in the winter in other parts of Minnesota, especially in the metro. A big problem for the State High School League — not so much for the girls.

“I just wanted to play, just wanted to play, and have fun and get better at something. And all the challenges that went with that,” said Sue Bautch, then known as Sue Wacker, who along with her teammates, led Glencoe to the first-ever girls Minnesota state basketball championship in the fall of 1974. 

They went undefeated at 21-0. 

The victory capped a stretch of 86-wins and just four losses from 1968 until the state title. 

Long before Title IX, Glencoe was leading the way.

“I was not feeling like a trailblazer at all. I was feeling like a celebrity, you know, I was just really enjoying it,” Bautch said.

That “fall” state girls basketball championship was the last of its kind. 

Holy Angels won the 1975 winter state girls basketball title, and in 1976, the State High School League voted to officially move girls basketball to the winter season where it is today.

One other note about Janet Willand, the Hall of Fame coach for Glencoe: Believe it or not, she never played a minute of organized basketball.

“Nothing; zero. Got some books and ask a few questions and look around,” Willand said.

“I respected her a lot,” Bautch said. “And you know, we just trusted each other and our teammates and we trusted our coaches; had integrity and honesty and it was just that kind of a team. Yeah. Just fun.”

Bautch is retiring this year as a teacher in Glencoe, where she also was the girls basketball coach.

Susan Alstrom

Girls basketball in Minnesota dates back to the late 1800s. Girls swimming meets took place on the Iron Range starting in the 1920s. There was limited opportunity for girls in sports, but no sanctioned state championships. That was even the case into the mid-to-late 1960s, even early 70s; but that all changed in Minnesota just days before Title IX became law in 1972.

“When Title IX was passed in ’72, in June, a month earlier, we had the first girls state track meet,” said Dorothy McIntyre, from the State High School League, who was the person in charge. She handed out medals and a trophy at the first-ever girls state meet of any kind in Minnesota: track and field at St. Cloud Apollo High School in May 1972.

“The first state track meet, that’s when I met Susan Alstrom,” McIntyre recalls.

“We tied White Bear Lake, so they had to flip a coin to see who got the trophy,” Alstrom remembers. “And we said we were so glad we got to bring the trophy home because no one would believe us.”

Thirteen girls from International Falls competed that day, with Susan winning two events, including the first one of the day, the shot put. 

“She became, in that meet, the first young woman to receive a gold medal,” McIntyre said.

“It changed my life entirely,” Alstrom said. “I was thinking about going pre-med. And after that, I’m like, you know, I’ve got to do something where as many girls can get this opportunity as possible. So I kind of changed my whole major and my whole focus in life.”

Susan got into teaching and coaching, and had a fabulous career at Buffalo Lake-Hector High School. And thanks in part to Title IX, she coached girls sports for 34 years. Susan Alstrom changed lives, just like hers was changed on that day in May, 1972.

“We were just thrilled to be playing,” Alstrom said.

“And that’s the importance of why we do things,” McIntyre said. “We create memories that can last a lifetime.”

Susan was an outstanding track star at Bemidji State and played a little basketball, too. She’s retired now, but still coaches a little and loves to travel.

Matriarch of girls sports
Dorothy McIntyre

“I think it was Teddy Roosevelt said, ‘Speak softly, but carry a big stick.’ Title IX, a nice big stick,” Dorothy McIntyre said. “We spoke softly for many, many years, but firmly, and said we need to do the right thing for girls and sports in a high school league. We’re going to do the right thing. But do remember the federal government has a law that says, ‘Yes, you will.'”

McIntyre said there was pushback in the effort to put girls on equal footing in sports.

“There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into getting it going in Minnesota,” McIntyre said.

“Those girls in the early 1970s were trailblazers.”

“That’s a great word for them,” McIntyre said. “And they also were the ones who took the brunt of the first reactions of people who didn’t necessarily want girls out there playing. So, yeah, trailblazers, but they were also very courageous and willing to take on that atmosphere. And sometimes it wasn’t positive because they wanted to play and that was more important.”

McIntyre retired from the State High School League 20 years ago, but if you ask anyone who knows anything about the beginning of girls sports in Minnesota, and who was the driving force for equal opportunity, equal facilities and equal pay, they’ll say Dorothy McIntyre.

“If that’s how they see me as being their advocate and having done the things that have been good for all members of the family, I’ll take it,” she said. “When I grew up on a farm in Iowa. My mother had a saying taped to one of the cabinet kitchens said, if it is to be, it’s up to me. And I watched her as I grew up. And there were a lot of things that if they were to be, it was up to her. And she did it. I think I took a lesson from that as many do, where their mothers set an example. You don’t want to disappoint your mother.”

McIntyre agrees that Minnesota schools have, in general, made the right decisions along the way of Title IX.

“When we look down the achievements and we look at 18 state tournaments for girls now, I think our participation of girls in Minnesota was one of the highest, if not the highest in the country,” she said. “There have been a lot of right decisions made. I have enjoyed being in the center while all the world whirls around saying more, let’s do more let’s make it better. And I just look back and say in appreciation What a wonderful career has been. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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By Harriet