I’ve always felt that we need to treat our daughters like we treat our sons.
In the 30+ years I was in the coaching profession, this was often an uphill battle, especially early on.
That’s not to say equality for women’s sports didn’t improve during that duration, but it was mostly a struggle.
Case and point, as the head softball coach for Western Illinois in 1972, I was handing out uniforms to my team.
Uniforms that were first used by the volleyball team, then the basketball team, and finally, well, us.
It was a hand-me-down cycle of inequality. Our women’s athletic teams received 18% of the athletics’ budget.
But that tells you what women’s sports were like back in the day.
I always like to tell that story because it shows how far we’ve come since then. I was in a unique position in that I started coaching right as Title IX came into effect, so I’ve seen the evolution of equality in a variety of different ways.
I retired from coaching in 2005, but I couldn’t stop being an educator, coach, and advocate for women’s sports even if I tried.
It’s what I’ve known almost my entire life, and despite all the progress I’ve seen and witnessed first-hand, I’ll never stop using my voice to remind this world how important equality is for the playing field and beyond.
Fighting for what’s right
When I graduated from Illinois State in 1968 with a physical education degree, I wanted to teach and coach.
But these were the days before Title IX, so there really were no women’s teams to coach.
In 1972, when President Nixon signed Title IX into law, it opened up numerous opportunities for me.
Western Illinois hired me to teach physical education and coach softball in 1971, and by 1972, our team was allowed to compete in the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women).
I spent 34 years as the head softball coach at Western Illinois, and I cherished every last second at a university I’ll always call home.
What I’m most proud of during my time there is I always fought for what I thought was right for my team and women’s sports.
Going back to the story on the uniforms, my women wore those hand-me-down uniforms for four years before we decided, that’s it.
Enough is enough.
We filed a lawsuit against the university, and in time, the women got their own uniforms they more than deserved. We also got more scholarships, bigger operating budgets, and improved facilities as the years went on.
The fight for equality started when I took over in 1971, and I continued to fight for my team and women’s sports for the coming decades that I was blessed to be called coach.
I retired from coaching in 2005, but I couldn’t stop being an educator, coach, and advocate for women’s sports even if I tried. It’s what I’ve known almost my entire life, and despite all the progress I’ve seen and witnessed first-hand, I’ll never stop using my voice to remind this world how important equality is for the playing field and beyond.
Exposure of women’s sports
In my 34 years in the profession, by far the most impactful change I’ve seen is the reception of women’s sports in the media. If you picked up a newspaper in 1980, for example, you wouldn’t find an article about women’s athletics anywhere.
It took longer than it should have, but eventually, there was a culture shift when the media and the public realized that women are athletes, too.
Not only are they great at what they do, but like all athletes, they love to play and compete in their respective sports.
We’ve come a long way in the exposure that women’s sports receive in the media, especially at the local level, but even in 2023, we’re certainly not all the way there yet.
I would challenge anyone reading this to visit a national media outlet online and head to the sports section. Once you do, let me know how many stories there are on women’s sports.
I’m not just talking about women’s basketball with Iowa, LSU, South Carolina, etc., and all the rightful recognition those programs receive during the NCAA Tournament.
Like men’s sports, there are women’s sports being played every single day throughout the year, and they aren’t consistently showcased to the degree the men are.
From a national standpoint, I long for the day when women’s sports are highlighted and discussed on a regular basis – not just for a few weeks out of the year.
Women should coach athletes
As I look at the landscape of women’s sports and where I want it to go, there is one area in particular that stands out to me.
In an equal world, for women’s teams in Division I athletics, half the coaches would be men, and half the coaches would be women.
By the same token, for men’s teams, it’d be half men and half women.
Realistically, none of us are naive enough to believe that’s going to materialize anytime soon. There are plenty of male coaches who coach women’s sports, but it doesn’t go both ways, and that limits opportunities for my fellow female coaches.
An argument I hear all the time, which I find to be ridiculous, if I can be frank, is if you never played the sport, you can’t coach it. I don’t know of any male coaches that grew up playing women’s basketball or fast-pitch softball. And yet, males are well represented in those sports from a coaching perspective.
What I’m trying to say is, let’s not handicap or put limits on what sports women can coach.
Let’s provide opportunities for women coaches to perform the job they were born to do, which is to coach athletes regardless of their gender.
A grateful view
Through the ups and downs of being associated with athletics for the entirety of my life, I remain humbled and grateful for everyone that’s shared this journey with me.
I’ve been blessed to work with female athletes who love to compete and test their talents on a national stage. More importantly, they had the drive for opportunities to play on such a monumental platform.
I’ve also been fortunate to have been surrounded by likeminded assistant coaches who always strived for the resources and support that would continually elevate our program at Western Illinois.
Between women’s field hockey, women’s premier fast-pitch, and Western Illinois softball, I’ve coached over 3,000 games. In every single game, I’ve relished watching and helping those athletes give their heart and soul to represent themselves, their families and friends, and programs and universities.
To say I’ve played a part in the growth of the strong and passionate women I’ve coached throughout the years is an incredibly gratifying feeling.
As I sit in the stands now instead of the dugout, I’m appreciative of everything I’ve been able to accomplish in this profession for women, and I can’t wait to watch additional opportunities rightfully come their way.
Kathy Veroni’s Career:
10 conference regular season titles (6 in the Summit League/Mid-Continent)
Three Summit League/Mid-Continent Tournament titles
14 30-plus win campaigns
869 total victories in 35 seasons