Nov. 14, 2012
By Amy Hughes
Sports were a way of life for UCLA head women's basketball coach Cori Close during her childhood in Milpitas, Calif.
"I was the only girl in my neighborhood," said Close. "My dad was a teacher and coach, but I really just wanted friends. If you wanted friends, then you played football in the street with the boys. You played basketball and pick-up games. I grew up doing whatever those boys in my neighborhood did, because those were the families we were close with."
Growing up in the 1970s, Close was part of the first generation of women to always enjoy the benefits of Title IX. Girls had established sports teams, although perhaps not as many as they might have liked.
"It used to be that there was one team for girls and 10 teams for boys," said Close.
Close was active in both soccer and basketball and loved both sports. Her club soccer team played together for roughly six years, and those women have stayed close enough to plan an upcoming reunion.
"Without Title IX, I don't think that would have happened," said Close. "There just weren't enough opportunities to go around at that point. Now, if you're a little girl and you want to go play soccer, you go play soccer. I think that the shift in Title IX had to start at the grassroots level, and I was right at the start of that."
Eventually, there came a point where Close had to choose one of her sports over the other and pursue either basketball or soccer. Knowing there were more scholarships available in women's basketball, she chose that sport over soccer in order to afford college.
"I knew my parents would figure out a way, but they couldn't really afford to send me," Close recalled. "I thought if I could pursue basketball, I'd have a better chance of relieving that burden. That was the start. From that point on, it was opportunity after opportunity."
Close was a key member of the UC Santa Barbara squad from 1990-1993 and watched as the gap between the men's and women's programs slowly closed.
"When I first was there, we weren't allowed to walk across the court during a men's practice," said Close. "There were all kinds of rules like that, but the men could do those things during our practice. We traveled four to a room. The men traveled two to a room.
"It was a joy to watch that change over time. By the time I graduated, we were going to the NCAA Tournament and getting bigger and better crowds [than the men]. My last year coaching at Santa Barbara, we out-drew the men, which is very unusual. We had a lot of really good opportunities."
That expansion of the Gauchos women's basketball fan base made a big impression on Close and increased her understanding of the impact of Title IX.
"Over and over, I heard the same thing," said Close. "I'd ask `why are you supporting women's basketball? Why are you coming to the games?' About 50% of the time, the answer was `I'm really enjoying watching players have the opportunity that I always wanted but I never had.'
"The Joan Kidders, the Barbara Offermans, the Renee Trenholms of the world - those were the people that I got to know who impacted my awareness because not only were they getting so much joy out of watching the young women in the program, but they made me realize that without the sacrifice of people who blazed the trails ahead of me with Title IX, I would not be getting paid to coach basketball."
After spending her first 11 years of coaching in the UC system, Close moved to the southeast to take an associate head coach position at Florida State, where the new athletic facility was equally shared by men's and women's teams.
"They treated people really well," Close said. "Women's sports were honored, and the opportunities it created were great. We shared training table with football and men's basketball. Bobby Bowden met with all of our recruits. It was really a great example.
The Seminoles won their first two ACC Championships while Close was coaching there.
"I don't think that would have happened without Title IX and the opportunities it created," she said. "The support and opportunities came before the success of the program, which I think is rare. A lot of programs will succeed and then they can fight for Title IX opportunities."
Close recognizes that the ground gained for women thanks to Title IX was hard-fought and did not come without great sacrifice from many people.
"I think about my life and think what it would have been like [without Title IX]," said Close. "I played Little League with all the boys, but now there are all kinds of girls leagues. I was at the turning point when opportunities really started to accelerate for women. It's all about what people fought for. I think about people like Marianne Stanley who had to lose her job so that we could enjoy some of those things.
"There was great sacrifice. Some people had to lose their jobs and make great personal sacrifice so that Title IX could be moved forward. It needs to continue to progress."
Close is extremely aware of UCLA's role on the forefront of Title IX and the support of women's athletics and is looking for her program to continue the advancement.
"Our players are ready to make an incredible return on investment to this university," she said. "We want to make our fans part of the experience and be great role models and inspire young girls in Los Angeles to be involved in this.
"We need USC and UCLA to be really big-time women's basketball programs, and we need to inspire. We need to set a course. In LA, there's no reason we shouldn't. We're on a quest to have a Bruin revolution for women's basketball in this city. Part of that is being a torchbearer for Title IX, not only for this generation, but for the next generation."
With Close's team playing in New Pauley Pavilion, her Bruins are ready to move forward and continue their quest to return to the top national status UCLA enjoyed when Ann Meyers and Denise Curry led the 1978 squad to an AIAW title.
"When I went to speak to all the former female athletes who gathered [for Saturday's Title IX celebration], my heart really did flutter," said Close. "The tradition here, the legacy, the people who are so proud of their Bruin legacy and the blue and gold that they bleed ... I'm here because they sacrificed and because they worked. I hope we make them proud, not just by building the program, but in the way that we represent what they have done. I hope we can continue to work really hard to represent their legacy."