Title IX felt at first Macoupin County girls’ track meet

Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Title IX. The winds of change were quickly felt in central Illinois.

Just 11 months after her passing, the first Macoupin County Girls Track Meet took place. Within a few years, the girls’ track in the county and across the state was joined by volleyball, basketball, and cross country, among others.

It will be years before women’s competitions reach an equal footing with men’s competitions. But at least the Macoupin County girls had a chance in track and field in 1973.

This inaugural meeting took place on May 9, 1973 in Carlinville and, unsurprisingly, it came and went without fanfare. The local Macoupin County investigator devoted only four paragraphs to the encounter.

The smallest school in the field, Palmyra Northwestern, consistently took top honors across all disciplines. Although the Wildcats only won three individual crowns, they finished in the top five in each event to finish with 55 points, ahead of Girard with 43.36. Carlinville finished third at 33.93.

Like the Enquirer, the Girard Gazette offered limited coverage – and apparently expected little from the home team. “As surprising as it may seem”, writes the Gazette, “the girls of the Girard track team took second place out of seven” during the meeting.

Northwestern, meanwhile, reveled in the victory. Partly due to its size, North West teams have traditionally battled bigger county rivals in most sports before the controversial 2011 decision to cooperate at all levels with Greenfield.

The 1973 women’s track and field title is the only county championship in all sports for Northwestern, which was established in 1948.

The Wildcats were led by Delores Darley, a Massachusetts native who had been a teacher in the Northwestern District since 1968. Her husband, Bob, was also a teacher and coach at Northwestern.

Like many others, Darley had just learned the sport of track and field.

“I played basketball in college and had already run hurdles,” she said. “But nothing prepared me to teach throws.”

She was also shocked by the primitive nature of women’s sports in Illinois.

“Back in Massachusetts, girls’ sports were already there,” Darley said. “Illinois was so far behind I couldn’t believe it.”

Unsurprisingly, there was little experience when competing in 1973. Staunton had no seniors on its roster, and girls from many schools had never competed track at any level.

Turnout figures, however, were high. Tiny Northwestern had one of the biggest rosters, with 22 girls on track that first year. Girard was almost as tall, with 21.

The training methods were still in their infancy and as a result the running events at the county meet produced some of the slowest times ever and participants on the field did not thrown away. Still, the competitive spirit was evident.

“I had such great kids at Northwestern,” Darley said. “We had some really good talent and some of our kids competed nationally early on. That’s why we’ve been so successful.

“Northwestern was just a good place to be. The people in that area were great and we really enjoyed our time there.

She then coached volleyball at Northwestern and eventually taught and coached in Jacksonville before moving to upstate New York as part of a 40-year career in education.

Half a century later, the 1973 County Girls’ Athletic Meet is largely forgotten, mostly because so few people cared about it at the time. Carlinville coach Linda Stuckey, a longtime math teacher, had few words for the county’s first meeting.

“I don’t remember much,” she laughs. “It wasn’t a big deal, by any means.”

At Northwestern victorious, it was a different story.

“Winning that meet was a big deal for our girls and the school,” Darley said. “It was the first county meeting and the first time they won it, so it was very important for them.

A few weeks later, the first-ever IHSA Girls track and field meet was held and Nan Steinmeyer of Carlinville became the county’s first state medalist, finishing second in the shot put.

Rushville won two medals, as the 1 mile relay team came second while Carla Settles finished third in the high jump. Southeast High School in Springfield won the tag team title.

At a time when women’s sports were in their infancy, Darley recalled the impact that first Macoupin County meeting had on the region.

“I think it showed that girls can play sports too,” she said. “Once given the opportunity, they showed what they could do.”

Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville. He can be reached at 217-710-8392 or [email protected]