I received a press release Monday morning that offered little surprise, but certainly made me stop and think.

The announcement that three St. Amant softball players — Whitney Troxclair, Kasey Nielson and Kara Gremillion — received spots on the National Fast Pitch Coaches Association All-South Region Team made perfect sense. Throughout the season, these three athletes exhibited the type of performances that have made Ascension Parish a standard-bearer for excellence in high school softball.

It may surprise some people that the mere opportunity to play — much less excel — may have been virtually impossible less than a half-century ago.

Saturday, June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX. The federal bill, part of the Education Amendments of 1972 signed by then-President Richard Nixon, stated (among other things) that “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”.

In layman’s terms, it mandated that schools give females an opportunity to compete in athletic events.

The roots of the program stemmed from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which called for an extension of gender equality — a movement that went stagnant after women gained suffrage in 1920.

Many of us scoff at government intervention. In a perfect world, people would recognize the need for equality.

Unfortunately, it often requires laws to ignite that proverbial oily rag in the back pocket.

Prior to 1972, many athletic programs were largely a ‘guys only’ fraternity. In many schools, a girl who wanted athletic opportunity only had the choice of grabbing a pair of pom-poms.

Some schools already had athletic programs in place for girls. For many others, it was only an afterthought.

It’s been a slow climb. When I started my career 27 years ago in Iberville Parish, I noticed a vast difference in facilities at some schools.

The boys had beautiful ballparks, equipped with chain-link fence backstops, electronic scoreboards, lights, plenty of seating and spacious dugouts.

Across the school campus, the girls softball field was merely that — a field.

Parents brought their lawnchairs because the facilities lacked bleachers. The backstop was little more than four 2-by-4s nailed together to hold chicken wire. Don’t even think about a scoreboard.

It almost resembled something out the Jim Crow Era of “Separate But Equal”, when we’d see a picture of a pristine ‘white only’ water fountain and the ‘colored’ (vernacular of the time) fountain, which was either a broken fountain or a water hose.

It’s sad to think great athletes were denied great opportunity simply because they were  females.

Thankfully, we’ve seen growth in the number of programs schools offer females, not to mention better facilities.

To its credit, Ascension Parish has done a fine job of offering quality facilities for girls athletics.

Some may say there’s room for improvement. Maybe we can address that in a future column.

In the meantime, it’s great to see the number of opportunities Ascension Parish schools afford the female athletes.

The success Gremillion, Nielson and Troxclair enjoyed this season proves how much this parish has done for girls athletics.

Without Title IX, they may never have enjoyed that success.