Prior to 1972 girls didn’t always have the opportunity to play sports at school. But the passage of Title IX changed that. It paved the way for Manitowoc’s Roncalli High School girls basketball team to become the sport’s first state champions in 1975.
Two former teammates talked with one another about that experience as part of a StoryCorps Mobile Tour stop in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
(The following excerpt has been edited for brevity and clarity)
Barb Baryenbruch Luhring: My name is Barb Baryenbruch Luhring. I am 65 years old.
Sue Tringali Johnson: I am Sue Tringali Johnson, I am 66. So we grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and our city recreation department did have organized girls basketball teams for grade school and high school. But at that point in time, we were playing (and) knowing we were going to be going into high school, where there were no sports teams for girls.
BBL: But ta-da! Enter the passage of Title IX. The fact that our private high school, Manitowoc Roncalli, received public assistance for lunches — which meant they were getting public assistance — so they would have to begin offering sports for girls, too. So when we got to school, we found out that we were going to have a basketball team. We felt like we won the lottery.
STJ: In the summer of 1972, the budgets were already done and all the money, of course, was, at that point, pledged to the boys sports teams. So that meant the budget for the girls was zero, right? Nothing. Assistant Coach Sue Schneider…
BBL: …her mom was an excellent seamstress. She came to a practice one night and she measured each of us girls and put together a pair of polyester navy blue shorts that she custom sewed for each of us. So the pants are taken care of.
STJ: The school did step up a little bit and ordered light blue polyester sleeveless tops with these giant numbers on them and no school name. But now we had shorts and sleeveless tops, with the giant numbers so we were going to be able to play. And actually, we finished our high school season with an 8-3 record.
BBL: Pretty good for a first season.
STJ: So our second season, we were undefeated. Officially, we did win sectionals, but we really wanted a full state tournament like the boys had, right? Not stopping at regionals. And then it changed because then we found out for the 1974-75 season…when I was a senior, and you were a junior-just in time, right?
BBL: Just in time!
STJ: For me anyway, they announced that there would be the first tournament for girls in the state of Wisconsin.
BBL: And we did actually make it to the state tournament, which was February 22nd, 1975. So we won our semifinal game against Milwaukee Lutheran, which meant we would be playing Racine Saint Catherine.
STJ: It was a super close game, 65 to 62. Actually pretty high scoring and this was in the day of no three point shots.
So we won! It was an amazing experience and tears just started immediately because all the things that we worked for — it’s just like all coming back for me right now — which is crazy. And then we got the trophy and all that was super cool.
We were in Madison, and it was about a three hour ride back to Manitowoc. And it just so happened that the boys were playing. So the gym was packed. We were introduced at halftime, walked out-standing ovation. It was just super cool.
BBL: It was a real moment of validation for those of us that were there, that felt like basketball was really important. Just imagine that group of us girls, but there were girls all over the country whose lives were changed forever by Congresswoman Patsy Mink and her congressional colleagues, and a president who together created a powerful Title IX movement.
It was like the stars were just all lined up. It was pretty cool.
This story came from an interview recorded at StoryCorps, a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday people. During a StoryCorps Mobile Tour stop in Green Bay, Wisconsin from August 10 – September 8, 2023, 110 conversations were recorded and preserved. Excerpts were selected and produced by Wisconsin Public Radio staff.