Skip to main content
The official hub for news and stories from Colorado Mesa University

CMU student-athletes head back to campus as the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX

Fifty years ago, 37 words changed the trajectory of education history: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

By enacting Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, congress opened the door for all students to participate in athletics and other activities, but the implementation of this was not quick or easy. What June 23, 1972, marks is the start date of ongoing work by education administrators, faculty, staff and lawyers to uphold this decision and to make it a reality. Progress also relied on the courage, hard work and perseverance of those who didn’t let a slowly evolving system of equity keep them from following their dreams.

 Deb (Green) Cain played basketball for CMU during her final two years of undergraduate studies from 1989-1991 and is forever grateful for the positive impact Title IX had on her future.

“I think it’s so important to be involved in sports or activities like marching band. It gives you the leadership, dedication, teamwork — everything you need to be successful in the real-world,” Deb said. “It’s fun seeing where my old teammates are at in life. It’s fun to see that basketball brought us all together but it also made us successful.”

Her husband, Paul Cain, was a basketball student-athlete then too. He now plays a lead role in sports equity issues across the Grand Valley as athletic director for Mesa County Valley School District 51, and remembers a time when inequities existed between men and women’s sports, specifically around travel accommodations.

Since the implementation of Title IX, CMU has played a leading role in gender equity across campus. It can be seen by the number of women on the university’s leadership team. Another example is with one of CMU’s newer sports teams. In 2018, CMU became the first in the west to offer varsity wrestling for women.

For Travis Mercado, it was the energetic, can-do Maverick spirit that drew him to the women’s wrestling head coaching job. Mercado saw a dedication to being truly excellent and competitive in every athletic program and knew a similar future was in store for his team.

“Other schools might be starting women’s wrestling programs for enrollment reasons. But here, true to our mascot, we have set ourselves up to be the leaders of women’s wrestling in the western United States,” said Mercado.

Since its first year (2018-2019), the program roster has grown from 10 competitors to 39 gearing up for the 2022-23 year.

Women in wrestling was nothing new to Mercado, who grew up in California. Wrestling in lighter weight classes, 112-119 in high school, and then 133 in college, Mercado often trained with female teammates who often didn’t have their own programs.

Collegiate women compete in freestyle wrestling, while men compete in folk style, also known as top/bottom. Mercado prefers coaching freestyle because it is faster-paced, focuses more on take-downs and is closer to the style used by Olympic athletes, both male and female.

“Now girls wrestling is the fastest-growing high school sport in this country,” Mercado said. “The numbers of female athletes and girls wrestling has skyrocketed and I think it's because we're giving them the opportunities to wrestle against their peers with high-level coaches and training that they weren't afforded 10 years ago, 15 years ago.”

This shift toward Title IX compliance also widens the pool for scholarship opportunities when these ladies reach the collegiate level because they aren’t competing with male students for them, but not every university is adding these programs.

Mercado’s team doesn’t get to host home duels or tournaments very often. They are usually traveling east and south to higher concentrations of opponents.

“I’m just waiting for the day when Western, Adams and other RMAC schools add women's teams because it will create more excitement!”

This year’s first home duel is scheduled for November 4 against Chadron State College.

Title IX certainly paved the way for gender equity in athletics, activities and academics for students.

“Title IX is a federal law which requires that all students be treated equally, regardless of gender. While this started as making sure there were equitable opportunities in sports, scholarships and other educational opportunities, it has expanded to ensure that students are safe from sexual harassment, whether that is harassment by a faculty or staff member, or sexual or domestic violence between students,” said CMU Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Rubinstein. “Without this law, many of the opportunities for students, which includes the LQTBQ+ community as well as women, would not necessarily be available.”

This protection extends to faculty and staff as well and Rubinstein works daily to ensure that there is gender equity throughout campus, and to make sure students, faculty and staff feel safe, supported and free of sexual harassment. 

As CMU remains competitive in athletics across the nation, the university also continues the work for gender equity here at home.

“All students, faculty and staff are empowered to report any issues they see on their desktops, laptops or the CMU App, via the 'Report an Incident' button,” Rubinstein said. “Be assured each report is addressed, and student safety, as well as making sure all parties involved have a right to be heard is taken very seriously.”

She also invites the CMU community to join her in advancing the equity movement by participating in the Sexual Citizens club and the Real Talk committee which creates programming regarding consent, respect and safety on campus.

“My door is always open for anyone with questions regarding the Title IX process, as well as about any concerns about gender issues on campus,” Rubenstein said.

As part of the continued work on gender equity, CMU highlights individuals who’ve helped move the needle including CMU Hall of Honor inductee Kathy Holthus-Daniels, who played volleyball for CMU in the late 80s. Now she loves to inspire the next generation of student-athletes. During her CMU volleyball career, she and a friend coached pee-wee basketball and she later officiated basketball and volleyball for local youth sports leagues.

She also runs the Mav For A Day program, which gives local kids between the ages of 8 and 14 a chance to tag along with a CMU student-athletes on game days, including participating in warm-ups, pep talks from coaches and after-game celebrations.

“The opportunity for girls to play sports to get college scholarships — that's a career changer for many who would have not been able to afford to go to college,” said Holthus-Daniels. “I also look at it like opening doors for the girls to be coaches, officials, athletic directors, trainers, sports agents, sports doctors — that has really opened up. It is kind of funny how now it’s such a big deal to see a female NFL or NBA official and it took us 50 years to get to that point even!”

In early August, CMU welcomed new Athletic Director Kim Miller, PhD, to campus. What Miller and CMU later discovered, is that she made history as the first woman of color to hold the position in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Thank you to Colorado Public Radio for celebrating her with us.


Written by Hannah Odneal