Title IX Day Interview with Judge Jennifer Brunner

Title IX Day Interview with Judge Jennifer Brunner

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the passing of Title IX.

Judge Jennifer Brunner, a Court of Appeals Judge in Franklin County, Ohio and the former and first female Secretary of State of Ohio, sat down with us to share her experiences with sport and physical activity before Title IX, running, and her first Girls on the Run of Central Ohio 5K.

Q: What was life like before Title IX? What sports were available to you as a female?

Before Title IX we had intramural volleyball and intramural softball, but if you wanted to earn a letter for a sport, you had to be a cheerleader. There were no other options. That meant you had to dress in a short skirt.  At my school, in the wintertime, this also meant that you had to leave your legs exposed.  You also had to wear saddle shoes, which were horrible to jump in, and you had to wear spankies.  That’s how you got a letter.”

Q: What do you remember about the passing of Title IX?

I was in high school at Whetstone High School in Columbus, Ohio, and all the sudden there was a girl’s track team, and it was because of Title IX. Now, it was a little slow to implement on the same level that the boy’s sports were. For instance, my track coach was a nice lady, but she didn’t really know anything about track.

So, my dad became my coach.  My dad had run the mile when he was in High School at Southeastern High School in Clark County, Ohio where he actually held the record for the fastest mile for decades.  Because my actual coach had no experience, my dad became my ex officio coach and I started running and starting doing workouts. Every day, I’d go into his room while he was getting ready and say, ‘Hey Dad what do I do today?’  He’d say, this many 440’s, this many 220s, run the stairs. So I did everything he said and lo and behold, as an 18-year-old, I got my mile closer to six minutes, which he was pretty excited about at my track meets.”

Q: What did Title IX mean to you personally?

“It meant equality. As I said earlier, before Title IX, the only sport that I could earn a letter in was cheerleading. When the team that we were cheering for would go to their games, whether it was basketball or football, the whole team would be able to ride the bus. We weren’t allowed. We expressed that we didn’t think it was safe for us as a group of teenage cheerleaders to cram into cars and get ourselves to the games.  So one time before Title IX passed, the administration agreed to try us on the bus with the other athletes and after that, we were told, ‘No, you can’t do this again. You just can’t do the same things as the boys.’ So we were relegated to driving ourselves; we didn’t have parents who drove us. So to me, Title IX meant equality. When I see girls involved in sports today, whether it’s running, or basketball, or any other sport, I’m so glad that she can earn a letter and participate on the same level as the boys. That’s the way that it should be.”

Q: What did running mean to you growing up?

“When I really started running, especially when I was able to do it in high school as part of a team, I didn’t just run the mile.  I ran relays, I did hurdles, I learned a lot that I had never really learned before except in passing in gym class. After the summer of my senior year in high school, I started running 3 miles in the morning and 3 miles in the afternoon each day.  I was at that point running 6 miles a day.  Running for me was a discipline that I learned and it was the satisfaction of being able to accomplish a goal that I set for myself.

Q: What was your first experience with the Girls on the Run 5k?

“When I went to the Girls on the Run 5k for the first time, it was amazing to see how it was organized.  It was great to see how excited the kids were. It was wonderful to see the parents involved, people dancing and having a great time – even in the rain.  But what really got me was at the finish line. I saw kids coming through, holding hands with their moms.  And then I saw girls coming through, holding hands with their dads.  I lost my dad 24 years ago.  It seems like a long time, but it brought back those memories of my own father.  I thought to myself, how lucky those girls are that they had their dads, running with them, and holding their hands. And then I realized what a great organization this is. In that moment, I was thankful to be alone, because the tears came and I just kept thinking, ‘Thank God for Girls on the Run.’ Running taught me so many things.  The fact that my dad was able to work with me and teach me the things that I needed to do to become a runner was just a precursor to the lessons in life that he gave me.”

Q: What do you hope for girls now that they have title IX and Girls on the Run?

“My hope for girls is that they can be whoever they were meant to be, that they can be their best selves. Whether they would pursue something in music, they can still run. Whether they pursue something in running, they can still do music. They can explore their talent and they can get and achieve this sense of accomplishment that in earlier days I’m not so sure was built in to the educational system. Girls on the Run is a way to augment whatever they may or may or not be getting in school or at home, and have something that’s just their own, and for them and to know they did it.”

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