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Title IX Trailblazers

Louise Owen coached her young team to a sectionals victory; more impressive, it was the players’ first year of basketball.

The first thing the staff at Evansville Living noticed when looking at this photo from the mid-1970s was the broad smiles of those pictured. Taken in 1976, that season’s girls’ basketball team at Reitz High School had many reasons to celebrate. Louise Owen (not “Owens,” as it’s spelled in the photo’s original caption), had coached her young team to a sectionals victory; more impressive, it was the players’ very first year of basketball in the Indiana High School Athletic Association. Their victory also came only four years after Title IX was approved by Congress, literally leveling the playing field for athletic teams of both genders.

The Education Amendments of 1972 — enacted by Congress and effective as of June 23 of that year — were meant to update Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The amendments focused on preventing discrimination in educational programs and activities; women’s team sports, however, were not considered a priority at the time.

But girls’ sports found a place to blossom under Title IX, and Owen quickly went to work in Evansville. She formed a girls’ basketball team for the 1975-76 season — the aforementioned sectionals champions — and led her 1981 team to a 26-1 record and the state basketball title.

Other Tri-State girls’ sports teams have launched success stories off Owen and her pioneering team of 1975-76. Take the soccer titles racked up by the girls’ teams at Mater Dei and Reitz Memorial high schools, or the championship earned in June 2021 by Boonville High School’s softball team. Title IX also opened the door for Princeton, Indiana’s Jackie Young to blaze a path from high school girls’ basketball to a career in the WNBA and, now, an Olympic gold medal.

Owen of course built an award-winning sports career for herself. By the time of her death at age 88 in 2018, she had been inducted into halls of fame for Indiana basketball and tennis, University of Evansville athletics, and Greater Evansville Sports. In addition to leading championship-winning teams, Owen and her late husband Archie — himself a Benjamin Bosse High School football coach — produced a storied sports family of their own, including late son Mike, who coached football and tennis at Central High School, and grandson Andy, who serves as the athletic director at EVSC.

Photo provided by Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation.

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