Sunday, January 20 2013, 09:58 PM CST
Illini Celebrate 40 Years of Title IX
CHAMPAIGN--Imagine a world where women's basketball wasn't played in a building like this.
And where the sport didn't offer the chance for future Illini to play on organized teams growing up.
It seems improbable now, but until 1972, that was a reality.
"I grew up playing with the boys in the back yard. I couldn't play basketball.", said former Illini track and field athlete Connie Johnson.
While she played basketball with the boys growing up, Johnson made a name for herself as a track and field athlete. Winning a national championship in 1970, two years before Title IX became law.
An opportunity she had because of the University of Illinois.
"It gave us a chance to be an athlete, but obviously we didn't have the scholarships, we didn't have the support that are now open to all of us because of Title IX.", Johnson said.
Title nine opened doors to life, through the sports.
"They get to travel, they have all kinds of wonderful experiences, that we never envisioned would ever happen.", said Illini donor and former basketball player, Lila "Shorty" Eichelberger.
She played basketball at the U of I in the late 1940's, but at that time, club teams were the only option.
And she says women didn't think it would be different.
"There weren't enough women to fight for it. They didn't realize it was a possibility. We had to break the glass ceiling."
Once it was broken, women's athletics became equal with mens.
And the athletes of the pre-Title IX era want the athletes of today to realize what they have.
"The people now are taking it for granted, and just don't take it for granted. You never know what's out the next door. Just really appreciate what you have, and give back.", said Connie Johnson.
--Reported by David Ade