A league of their own
High school athletics has not always been a place for fair play.
Prior to 1972 with the passing of Title IX, women’s athletics were not recognized, and coaches and players had to fight to earn the recognition and rights their peers already enjoyed.
Players from the first women’s teams at Forbush High School recall with both nostalgia and frustration their struggles to be recognized as athletes. They spent their afternoons driving all over the county to practice at elementary schools, gyms, colleges and recreation league courts to play any team willing to compete.
They had no access to their own gym, no activity bus to transport them and no funds to cover the cost of uniforms.
“We didn’t have a lot to hope for my last year at East Bend School,” said Joy Fox, a team captain on Forbush’s first female basketball team. “It was thrown at us that the next year we wouldn’t have a basketball team. I came from a basketball family, and that came first rather than academics.”
Fox’s fears were alleviated when she met the woman who would change the face of women’s athletics at Forbush High. Coach Linda McCormick would come to be seen as a beacon for women’s athletics and would fight to make sure her players were recognized and honored like all other athletes at the school.
An uphill battle
McCormick was a health and physical education teacher who had a strong background in basketball. She grew up on a tobacco farm in Yadkin County. She played basketball throughout elementary and high school.
“I played at Surry Central, and before Surry Central I went to Copeland,” McCormick said. “I wasn’t bad; I got All Northwest. The year that I went into college they did away with women’s basketball.”
In fact, basketball is what kept McCormick from dropping out of school in the eighth grade. She said she enjoyed playing sports but hated attending classes. Once, she staid out of school for six weeks before her mother was notified by the school.
“When they contacted her and told her, she went to the school and talked to the basketball coach there because she knew that I liked sports,” McCormick said. “He had his star players from the basketball team start an eighth grade team just to get me interested. When I found out that was going on I went to school.”
McCormick went on to college and got her teaching degree and returned to Yadkin County to teach at Forbush. It wasn’t long before she was being sought by several girls like Joy Fox who wanted a team of their own to play on.
“I told them they had taken the teams out of the schools, but they said they wanted to play anyways. So I got a group together and took them out to practice, and I realized these girls were good,” McCormick said. “I started finding ways to practice with them.”
Since the school did not recognize women’s athletics, McCormick was not allowed access to the gym or equipment and had to resort to using elementary school gyms at 9 p.m. to practice.
“We weren’t allowed to have basketball practice in the gym at Forbush, so we drove our own cars and, we practiced at little Forbush, Fall Creek and Boonville, which was the closed African-American school,” Fox said. “After school each day we would drive as far as Boonville to practice and McCormick would be right there with us.”
McCormick would call in favors with friends’ coaching teams at Winston-Salem State University, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Appalachian State University, Elon University and Hanes Park Recreation in Winston-Salem in order to find teams for the girls to compete against.
“It was about playing,” Fox said. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t have uniforms or a conference; you just wanted to play. If we had to drive our car or bargain with people to have the gym then that’s what we did.”
This went on for five years before Title IX was finally passed and required gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
“When women’s sports came back to the high schools in 1972 we were pretty good because we had been playing for five years,” McCormick said. “Nobody could touch us. That’s how it all got started.”
McCormick didn’t stop with basketball. She went on to start a women’s tennis team, softball team and volleyball team in her 22 years of coaching at Forbush.
McCormick said that even though the school was required to recognize women’s athletics they were still not treated with equality. McCormick said that the men’s teams were always given preference to the activity bus and the gym. She said she wasn’t even given a lighter teaching schedule or equal pay as her male counterparts.
“We won all the time, and our boys’ record wasn’t as good so that was hard on them,” McCormick said. “In 1979 when we won the state championship in softball, they started to recognize our program. It was still a fight to get a bus and to get practice space and time. The last year of my coaching we were finally equal.”
McCormick said that she was always regarded as a feminist by her co-workers and fellow coaches. They assumed that was why she was so adamant about making sure the girl’s were treated equally.
“After maybe 10 years into coaching they found out that I was really sincere in what I was doing,” McCormick said.
Against all odds
McCormick said she was able to successfully install a women’s athletics program at Forbush, and by the end of her career it was functioning as an equal program to that of the men’s teams.
There was something still missing. The annual awards banquet honored the entire year of athletics, and the school was still not recognizing a female athlete of the year.
McCormick demanded that she be allowed to name her athlete of the year, but the athletic director would not give her a definite answer.
“I said come hell or high water it would happen,” McCormick said. “If I have to buy it myself, then I’ll buy it and have her name put on it. And I will get out there and speak and embarrass the hell out of you all.”
She ended up naming Marty Driver the first female athlete of the year in 1974.
“She didn’t think it was going to happen, and so she didn’t say anything to anyone,” Driver said. “It seems that the athletic director had kept it a secret from her until the night of the banquet. He had my plaque and everything engraved on it perfectly, but no one knew until that night. There has been a female and male athlete of the year ever since at Forbush High School.”
Driver said that McCormick’s dedication to her teammates was inspirational and touching. She said that her number one goal in high school was making sure that she would make Coach McCormick proud in whatever she did.
“My coach was such a role model for me growing up,” Driver said. “I loved and respected her so much, and I wanted her to be proud of me. I busted my butt just because I wanted her to be proud. She was really tough on us because she wanted to get the best out of us.”
McCormick said it wasn’t important to her that her girls pursued a higher education and had a plan for their lives after high school than to just go on to become wives and mothers.
“I pushed my players to go to college,” McCormick said. “Some of them earned scholarships, and I knew a lot of people at the colleges because I had all these meetings and I had connections. I did everything I could to get my kids into college.”
Fox said that she had no plans for her life her senior year of high school and hadn’t even bothered to take the SATs. When McCormick learned that Fox wasn’t planning a future she set out to help her find somewhere to continue her education.
“She told me I really needed to go to college, and I told her I hadn’t even taken the SAT,” Fox said. “She helped me find a school that didn’t require SAT scores, so that’s how I got in. Without that direction I guess I would have stayed on the farm and gone to work. She was instrumental in me going on to college.”
McCormick’s legacy at Forbush remains strong in the minds of her players, and many of them feel that she was a trailblazer and Forbush High School was lucky to have her there.
“She was really a prize that Forbush does not recognize,” Fox said. “She needs more recognition. She should have a trophy case of her own at Forbush. If the girls had not had McCormick there to anchor us and give us direction then I don’t know what would have happened to us; probably nothing good.”
“She was ahead of her time as far as seeing women as equals to the men,” Driver said. “The girl’s athletic program probably wouldn’t have started when it did or come as far as it has if it wasn’t for her.”
McCormick said that while she still feels anger creeping up when she reminisces on those days, she would do it all over again.
“I felt like I had to fight for everything,” McCormick said. “I don’t know what was the matter with them, I really don’t. The only thing I can figure is they weren’t subject to change and they weren’t going to. So everything I wanted for the girls I had to fight for. I have no regrets whatsoever.”
A different world
Today coaches and athletes alike can’t imagine a world like the one McCormick, Fox and Driver endured. There’s a women’s equivalent to every sport available at Forbush High School, and there are even women competing on male dominated teams like wrestling and hunter safety.
“Students have more opportunities today than 20 years ago,” said Forbush Assistant Principal Candice Dinkins. “Young ladies can participate in events that had once been only male dominated. It is awesome that we do not hold these young ladies to the traditional women’s sports but open the doors for them to achieve their dreams in a variety of extracurricular events.”
Laken Jowers, a Forbush senior and the only female on the school’s wrestling team, has a unique view of the changes in today’s women’s athletics.
“As a female wrestler I am in a predominately male sport,” Jowers said. The way a person responds to what I do depends on who they are. Many of my opponents underestimate me. However, most people, including my coaches, teachers, parents and teammates are very respectful and supportive.”
The women’s soccer coach Kennan James feels that it’s an honor to be a women’s coach at Forbush today. He’s coached men’s soccer teams for over 10 years at Forbush and has served as the head coach for women’s varsity soccer since 2000.
“It’s definitely different but I like it better because the girl’s absorb most everything you teach them,” James said. “With boys there more of a struggle with authority.”
Dinkins said that while inequality isn’t a problem at Forbush anymore she feels the biggest difference in today’s high school sports is the demand on the students.
“I think there’s more demand on our athletes today,” Dinkins said. “When I was in school you could play one sport at a time but now a lot of the coaches want their athletes all the time. I think they demand a lot.”
Dinkins said that all of the school’s trophies from its beginnings to now are on display in the main building’s lobby but due to an increasingly crowded space the trophies are not easy to group by year or to browse through.
“We want to put historical items in our science building because we have an unfinished conference room that would be a great display room for those items,” Dinkins said. We would house historical data and memorabilia there as well as the awards and recognitions. We’re still in the process of locating 45 years of items to display in that room.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.
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