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Female athletes look back at 40 years of Title IX

Recent Lincoln-Sudbury grad Lauren Sutherland, a Globe All-Scholastic field hockey player, is now a freshman player at Holy Cross.

Jon Mahoney for the Boston Globe

Recent Lincoln-Sudbury grad Lauren Sutherland, a Globe All-Scholastic field hockey player, is now a freshman player at Holy Cross.

For Lauren Sutherland, the reminders are all around her: the impeccable purple and white Adidas uniforms, the top-of-the-line equipment, the flight reservations to Washington, D.C., for a game in late September. They are all signs of just how much Holy Cross has committed to its field hockey program.

Sutherland, from Watertown, started her freshman season for the Crusaders last week, about 40 years after the passage of Title IX, which promised women equal access to all fields of education receiving federal financial assistance — including sports.

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She knows that the benefits she has been provided as a scholarship athlete at a Division 1 program, and throughout her athletic career, are in many ways thanks to that landmark 1972 legislation.

“We take advantage of the fact that we have it so easy now,” she said. “I’ve never had to deal with anything like what women back then had to deal with. All of our field time and everything like that in high school was always split evenly. It was never even something that crossed my mind, that we wouldn’t be treated as fairly as any men’s team. I’m really fortunate.”

Some of the first female athletes to benefit from Title IX played at local high schools in the years immediately after it was signed into law. Among them were members of the inaugural Globe All-Scholastic field hockey team in 1976, including Lexington High graduates Laura Lasa and Gabrielle Fecteau, and Newton North graduate Yvonne Van Bodengraven.

Though it took decades for women’s sports to achieve high-profile status, all three local athletes said they appreciated the opportunities they were given to compete.

“I look back and realize I didn’t have all the opportunities like my daughter has now, but back then I was at a very, very large school and I had options,” said Van Bodengraven. She remembers first learning about Title IX when a male classmate from Australia joined the girls’ field hockey team because there was no such team for boys.

“I played soccer in a town league. I got to high school, and then I had to choose. There was no women’s soccer team, but there was a volleyball team and a field hockey team so I had a choice. I could play a sport,” she said.

Fecteau, who was Gaby Haroules in her listing as an all-scholastic in the Dec. 21, 1976, issue of the Globe, was equally satisfied with the sports offered during her high school years. Lexington did not have a girls’ hockey team, one of her favorite sports, but she played field hockey, basketball, and softball for the Minutemen.

She then attended the University of New Hampshire as one of its first female athletes on scholarship, and played all four sports at different points in her collegiate career.

“The late 1970s was a time when women’s sports and women’s athletics really took off,” said Fecteau, who lives in Hamilton. “I’m not sure I noticed how Title IX impacted me personally at that time, though. I was just a young kid who wanted to play.”

Lasa, whose last name in high school was Hoffman, remembered some debates over field usage and practice times in Lexington, but it wasn’t until she attended Springfield College that she began to notice how the offerings of men’s and women’s sports differed, even after Title IX.

After the Springfield field hockey team qualified for the national tournament, the school would not fund its trip to Washington state. When players offered to raise the funds themselves, Springfield told them not to.

“They said that’s an embarrassment to the college to have you out there doing bake sales,” Lasa said. “So we didn’t go. That was the first time when I was really like ‘Wow, we’re not even on the same planet. This is not OK.’ ”

After graduation from Springfield, Lasa returned to Lexington High, where she coached field hockey and basketball and pushed for equal court time for her girls’ teams. Now, as Lexington High’s principal, she sees firsthand just how much has changed since her playing days.

“Today’s female athletes, they don’t know anything different than having nice uniforms and equal practice time,” Lasa said. “They just don’t know anything different. I don’t think they know how fortunate they are — nor should they. It’s all they’ve ever known.”

Sutherland, who shared the Globe’s Athlete of the Year honor in field hockey last fall, began playing in third grade in a program run by Watertown High’s field hockey players. She played through middle school and for a club team, Cape Ann Coalition, that traveled around the country so players could gain experience and exposure to college coaches.

In Sutherland’s senior year at Watertown High, the field hockey team shared the Victory Field turf with the football squad. At Holy Cross, Sutherland said, preseason training included a session during which members of the field hockey and football teams shared the weight room.

Those experiences were a far cry from the norm for the field hockey team at Newton North four decades ago.

“We had to take a bus to get to our field,” said Van Bodengraven, who played field hockey at Bates College and also lives in Hamilton. “The boys could play right on school property, but we had to take a bus, and we didn’t like that very much. I remember that being kind of a big deal.”

In 40 years, the offseasons for female athletes have changed as well. Ellie Landsman, a Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High graduate and 2012 Globe All-Scholastic now in her freshman season at Boston University, played field hockey nearly year-round during her four years of high school.

Lasa and Fecteau, on the other hand, played a different sport every season.

“If they want to play in college, they don’t have the opportunity to play three sports as I did, because of all the camps and their training year-round and playing in clubs,” Fecteau said. “It’s the same for men. You have to pick one sport and focus on that one sport. In some ways, I had more opportunities back in the ’70s than the kids do today.”

Both Fecteau and Lasa praised the work of their mentors in women’s athletics at a time when Title IX was new. Longtime Lexington High coach Sandy Curt stood out to them as someone who pushed for greater benefits for female student athletes, and whose career provided a gauge for some of the ways in which Title IX changed the landscape of amateur women’s athletics.

Curt remembers riding in the back of a station wagon with her Northeastern University basketball teammates to a national tournament in Indiana; as Lexington’s head softball coach in 2008, she rode with her team on a charter bus to the Division 1 state finals at Worcester State.

“We need to seize all the opportunities in front of us and not take them for granted,” said Landsman, who is a scholarship athlete at BU. “We need to appreciate everything, all the opportunities we have because it wasn’t always like this before. We’re very lucky.”

Phil Perry can be reached at paperry27@gmail.com.

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