For years, the Lady Rams—the girls’ high school softball team in Owasso, Oklahoma—played their home games at a dusty city-owned ballpark with wooden bleachers and a chain-link backstop. The boys’ team, on the other hand, played its games on the Owasso High campus, at a first-rate facility with lush green grass, aluminum stands, and an electronic scoreboard. Ron Randolph, whose daughter, Mimi, played catcher for the team in the mid-1990s, thought the girls were getting a raw deal. When he and several other parents complained to the school superintendent, they were told that a task force would be created to look into the matter. That never happened, but the Lady Rams, who took the state championship in 1995, were treated to brand-new uniforms for the first time in five years.
The uniforms were nice, but Randolph and the other parents wanted more for their daughters. Girls’ soccer had become increasingly popular in Owasso, a small town just outside of Tulsa. So had volleyball. Yet the district seemed to treat its female athletes as second- class citizens. The boys got better equipment and better playing times for their games. They had better access to medical and training facilities, too. Randolph, who also has a son, said at the time, “If I pay $100 every year to this school in taxes, and $10 of it goes to athletics, I think $5 ought to go to my boy and $5 ought to go to my girl. To me, it’s simple math.”
In the winter of 1996, after much deliberation, Randolph, along with 10 other parents and their daughters, sued the Owasso Independent School District for violating Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funds. It was the first such complaint in the state of Oklahoma, and one of only a handful of Title IX cases that had been brought at the precollegiate level nationally.
The district denied the allegations and fought the suit. But less than a year later, it settled the case with the parents. As part of the agreement, the district agreed to build a new girls’ softball stadium and to provide girls’ athletic teams with the same resources as the boys’.
Today, the Lady Rams play on campus at a sparkling new $300,000 diamond, one of the best in the state of Oklahoma. Their former home, in the city park, is overgrown with weeds. And even though Mimi Randolph never got to play ball on the new field—she graduated just before it opened and is now a sophomore at Northeast Louisiana University—her father takes great satisfaction in having helped change the face of girls’ athletics in the Owasso schools. “We kicked their butts,” he says.
David Fisher, Owasso High’s athletic director and Title IX coordinator, says the school has one of the most equitable sports programs in Oklahoma. “We’re in good shape,” he says. “We’re thrilled with all the changes.”
For Ray Yasser and Samuel Schiller, the lawyers who represented the Owasso parents and girls, Title IX law has become something of a specialty. Even before the Owasso case was settled, a group of parents in Tulsa-emboldened by the Owasso plaintiffs-hired the lawyers to file a similar complaint. That district also chose to settle, and since then Title IX lawsuits in Oklahoma have spread faster than a prairie brushfire. Yasser and Schiller recently filed their 12th.
“We get calls all the time,” Yasser says. “People go out to Owasso and see the new field and say, ‘Hey, why don’t we have one as nice as this?’ ” In all of the cases, he adds, “the districts start things off by kicking and screaming, and then, eventually, they agree to make some changes.” Many other districts in Oklahoma have chosen to avoid litigation by voluntarily transforming their athletic programs to comply with Title IX guidelines. “We’ve helped turn Oklahoma into a good place for girls to play sports,” says Yasser, who teaches law at the University of Tulsa.
Randolph never doubted that he and the other parents would prevail. Not only did he have a spot on campus picked out for the new girls’ softball field, but he also wanted the stadium to be dedicated to the seven girls named in the lawsuit, including, of course, his daughter, Mimi. He hoped to place a bronze plaque at the facility with these words on it: “To the girls who had the courage to fight for what they believed.” But when it came time to negotiate with the district, Yasser urged Randolph not to press the matter.
“Ray said it wasn’t worth fighting for,” Randolph says. “But I just hope the public doesn’t forget how this happened and why it was done.”