In Their Court
Episode 1: A Sporting Chance
IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD, HOST, NBC: The year is 1996. We're in Atlanta, Georgia where the USA women's basketball team is preparing to face Brazil for the gold medal.
MUHAMMAD: The stakes are high. This is after all the Olympics.
MUHAMMAD: The women on Team USA have spent the last year training and touring the world, exhibiting their skills on the court. By now they're basically celebrities.
MUHAMMAD: The stadium is packed, the roar of the crowd is deafening, and the players are so laser-focused on what's about to happen they almost look solemn.
MUHAMMAD: And then the game begins.
MUHAMMAD: The pressure is on. The USA women's basketball team failed to bring back the gold metal during the last Olympics. That can't happen again.
MUHAMMAD: Teresa Edwards, Ruthie Bolton, and Sheryl Swoopes are making shot after shot while Lisa Leslie defends the net like her life depends on it.
MUHAMMAD: That day, this incredible team of women brought home the gold medal and crystallized the summer of '96 as the summer of gold, the summer of women.
MUHAMMAD: That year the entire world witnessed a string of victories by American women across an unprecedented range of sports.
MUHAMMAD: The '96 Olympics also came to be known as the Title IX Olympics. These women were the first generation to come of age in the era of Title IX, a historic piece of legislation that had been signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
In the '96 Olympics they were seen as Title IX working, proof that this piece of legislation had changed American sports.
SEDONA PRINCE, UNIVERSITY OF OREGON WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYER: I got something to show you all. So for the NCAA March Madness, the biggest tournament in college basketball for women, this is our weight room.
MUHAMMAD: It's 2021. University of Oregon player, Sedona Prince, has posted a video on TikTok. It's not just gone viral; its kick started a national conversation about the inequities in men's and women's sports. In this video she is pointing to a small pyramid of weights, the kind you might find in someone's garage. And then --
PRINCE: Let me show you all the men's weight room.
MUHAMMAD: Now she's showing us an enormous convention space. In it there are weight benches, pull up bars, tons of state-of-the-art equipment. It makes the women's facilities look like a joke.
PRINCE: If you aren't upset about this problem, then you're a part of it.
MUHAMMAD: A few months later two high profile basketball coaches, South Carolina's Dawn Staley and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer called for congressional involvement regarding the NCAA's treatment of women's sports.
At virtual event run by the democratic women's caucus, VanDerveer said --
TARA VANDERVEER, STANFORD BASKETBALL COACH: The NCAA Tournament is the tip of the discrimination iceberg. Through lack of vision and pure sexism women's basketball has been systematically held back. Our players and coaches have been harmed.
After 49 years of Title IX we still have work to do.
MUHAMMAD: In the aftermath of this, a report commissioned by the NCAA found that resources allocated to men's and women's basketball differed significantly, even taking into account the tournaments contrasting sizes.
In 2019 there was roughly a $35 million gulf in spending.
The report also found that the NCAA's media agreements undervalued women's sports. The contract that included Division One Women's Basketball was valued at, on average, $34 million a year. But an independent analysis revealed that this contract could be worth up to $112 million by 2025.
And honestly, there's way more iceberg below the surface.
Fifty years ago when Title IX passed it represented a monumental victory for women in education and a unique opportunity to grow women's athletics. So why are we still coming up short.
I'm Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and this is "In Their Court," a five-part series that will explore the good and the bad of Title IX, through the rich history of women's basketball. Title IX changed my life. I fenced in high school, then at Duke before qualifying for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
I'm also a black woman, a Muslim woman, the first American athlete to wear hijab while competing at the Olympics and in my many years of training and competing, I've seen some things. We have a long way to go.
There's a moment you've been probably been in before. You want to do something or say something but you're not sure if you should. Maybe it's storming into your boss's office, maybe it's finally auditioning for that play.
You're nervous and then some small voice in your head says, just do it. That's the moment Mickie Demoss found herself in her sophomore year at Louisiana Tech University. And this girl was knocking on the door of someone very important.
MICKIE DEMOSS, AMERICAN BASKETBALL PLAYER: That was actually the president of Louisiana Tech, FJ Taylor.
MUHAMMAD: It's 1974, just two years after Title IX has been signed into law by President Nixon. It's not really clear how many universities know or care about its passage. It's even less clear how many universities intend to change their school rules to follow Title IX.
These are the early years of this piece of legislation, and they're basically the Wild West, which is why today's job has fallen on the shoulders of 19-year-old Mickie DeMoss.
DEMOSS: I can't remember exactly who I went with, but we went to see him. And I said, look, there's some other universities in the state of Louisiana that are putting together a women's basketball team. I know for a fact because they're recruiting some of my friends that are still in high school, they're actively recruiting them.
I knew nationally like Immaculata, Delta State some of those schools were really drawing great crowds and I just loved the competition. And I thought, why can't we have that here? Why can't we have a women's basketball team?
MUHAMMAD: Mickie had found her love for sports pretty early in live, she was from a relatively sleepy town in Louisiana, a place called Delhi. It's about an hour east of the university.
DEMOSS: There was not a lot to do, so sports became something that I was interested in. Even as a young child, I was always watching the Yankees on TV.
And so, always had a keen interest in sports. And as I grew older, I had a basketball goal in my driveway, and then just started shooting and then playing softball in the summer. So I came from a area that girls basketball was big.
MUHAMMAD: It motivated her to try out for and ultimately make her high school basketball team. In the 1960s, women's basketball wasn't as ubiquitous as it is today. In fact, the game only thrived in more rural areas of the south where there was a culture of women performing manual labor, or Catholic high schools where there was an affinity for the sport. That's something Mickie realized when she got to Louisiana Tech, the culture was different.
DEMOSS: I mean, we had really good sports, but unfortunately not for women. So I enjoyed school, I enjoyed being at Louisiana Tech, but I really missed playing basketball my freshman year. I really missed it. And I played intramurals, but it still wasn't the same.
MUHAMMAD: Mickie wanted the real thing, which is why she was now in the office of her university president, asking him for a women's collegiate basketball team.
DEMOSS: He said, you know, he would think about it and didn't know what the cost would be, and all of that kind of stuff.
So when we left, I thought we'll see.
MUHAMMAD: Mickie Demoss might seem like an outlier, but across the country many women were waking up to this new reality, a new era with Title IX. One of them was a woman named Margaret Dunkle.
MARGARET DUNKLE, CREATOR OF TITLE IX: When Title IX was initially proposed, the hoopla was about the most blatant exclusion and discrimination. If you were a girl, you couldn't take shop, you couldn't be members of certain clubs, you could be kept out of engineering classes, you could be denied admission to colleges. Whereas your brother who had exactly the same abilities, credentials would have been admitted.
MUHAMMAD: Today, Margaret is a well-known advocate and activist for women's rights. But in the early 1970s, she was just a recent grad from Syracuse witnessing the birth of this new law.
DUNKLE: Title IX happened because a few people got smart, cared a lot, and stuck with it. And progress on Title IX will happen for the same reasons.
MUHAMMAD: It's funny, we hear the phrase Title IX a lot. Sometimes it feels like this mystical thing with the power to ward off misogamy.
But in reality, Title IX is just a brief 37-word paragraph in the middle of a huge document called the Education Amendment Act of 1972. It reads, no person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Wonky, I know. But the initial focus of Title IX was essentially education, and how to make educational opportunities fair for women. It wasn't until people like Margaret Dunkle entered the space that anyone realized just how powerful this thing could be for sports.
DUNKLE: In July of 1972, just a couple of days after Title IX had been signed into law, I moved back down to Washington and started working on Title IX issues in-depth with this incredible women, Dr. Bernice Sandler, everyone called her Bunny. She had been a real leader in helping to bring these issues to the floor.
MUHAMMAD: Dr. Bunny Sandler was a force, and she'd later be known as "The Godmother," of Title IX. Young Margaret began working with Bunny at a think tank in D.C. Together they sort of became the PR machine for this new law promoting it, spreading the good word, and fighting the forces that were trying to weaken Title IX.
DUNKLE: We had these buttons we were wearing them up and down the halls of Capitol Hill, we were passing them out like gumdrops, and kind of came up with these slogans. They're kind of iconic, and they're almost 50 years old.
MUHAMMAD: Margaret still has a few left and she's showing them to me now. They're bright yellow, and the little slogans read –
DUNKLE: "God bless you Title IX," and "Give women a sporting a chance."
MUHAMMAD: Give women a sporting chance. That one's especially important because it would get at what Margaret and Bunny were about to discover, that athletics was the perfect frontier for Title IX.
DUNKLE: Bunny Sandler said to me shortly after that, Margaret, sports is going to become a big issue, figure it out. Now, the height of my athletic career, true confessions, was when I was about age 7 trying to play badminton on the front lawn with my dad, and it was pretty meager. So my research was better than my athletic prowess. But I said, OK, we'll figure that out.
MUHAMMAD: And so Margaret got to doing what she does best.
DUNKLE: I did the first research on Title IX in sports and tried to trump (ph) down all the different ways that disparities could happen. At that point there was no Title IX regulations, so one of the big contributions of this report was that it documented inequities up over and under the wazoo.
MUHAMMAD: This might not come as a surprise, but there were a ton of them.
DUNKLE: It was bake sales to travel, and the guys got the planes. It was the female coach is a volunteer, and the male coach is paid by the phys ed department. It was we can only practice at 6 o'clock in the morning and 8 o'clock at night because the guys use the field. And it was the same campus, to campus, to campus – it was everywhere. Sex discrimination in sports, sex discrimination in schools and colleges was the norm.
MUHAMMAD: But Margaret insists that things were changing, just slowly and painfully. Her report even found that given enough support and publicity, women's sports could create as much spectator interest as men's sports. The women just needed the opportunity to prove themselves.
It had been some time since Mickie Demoss had talked to President Jay Taylor about starting a women's basketball team at Louisiana Tech. She'd assumed the answer was a no and was now on a school trip in Rome.
DEMOSS: The place we were staying in Rome, they had a basketball goal in a little concrete area in the little courtyard. And there were some little children that would be out there shooting, and I would run out there and say, do you all mind if I play with you all a little bit? And so I got word when I was over there that our coach had been hired. I said, oh, so they've hired a coach?
So I thought, OK we're definitely moving on this.
MUHAMMAD: And who was going to be Mickie's coach?
DEMOSS: It was a woman named Sonja Hogg and I didn't know anything about her. She had this platinum blond hair and she was always dressed to a T, even it was a physical education type outfit it was like I'm sure a brand name that she had on with diamonds and diamond bracelets. But her personality is what made Sonja.
Sonja Hogg is a salesman, I mean the first time that I met her, I thought this lady knows where she wants to go, and she knows how to get there.
SONJA HOGG, COACH LOUISIANA TECH: So I was 28-years old when I joined the faculty at Louisiana Tech. At 28-years old you think you can do everything.
The President called me in his office and proposed starting a basketball team. And I told him, Dr. Taylor, well, you know, I don't have any experience coaching, but I've played, and I can handle most all that and I'll get it up and running. And if you (ph) don't like it, I'd appreciate you getting someone with more experience.
And he laughed and said, "Well, I think you'll be able to handle that, Ms. Hogg."
MUHAMMAD: She wasn't lying. Sonja was a gym teacher at a local high school and there wasn't exactly a blueprint for starting a women's program from scratch in the early '70s. But Sonja knew if she stood any chance of succeeding, she'd have to learn everything she could about how to coach this sport.
HOGG: I saw a brochure and it was a basketball clinic, it was going to be in New Orleans. I said, I'm going to this clinic, and it was in a big ballroom at one of the hotels. And as the place was filling up, I kept looking aback and trying to spot another female. There wasn't another female in that room, and I guess it was probably 300 or 400 men and I was the only woman.
MUHAMMAD: The clinic was being run by legendary Indiana Head Coach, Bob Knight. Knight led the Hosier's to three national championships and also had a reputation for being intense. Befitting for a man nicknamed "The General".
HOGG: He was up on that podium speaking. And I had my notebook, and I was writing just as fast as I could. And he said now this next little drill I'm going to need a volunteer. He said, young lady, I looked up and sure enough he's looking right at me.
I thought to myself, well I've got a major decision. I stood up, put my notebook down and walked up, stepped on the riser, did (ph) bit the little hand tag drill with Bob Knight and when I left the stage I kind of patted him on the back. He said, thank you very much.
And I just put my arm around him. And I said, thank you, coach.
And the whole 300 or 400 men stood up and gave me a standing ovation. I guess it was, at least I had enough guts to get up there and being a good sport about it. I said, listen, I'm here to learn.
MUHAMMAD: She was. And in order to put what she had learned to the test she need to build a team. And her budget?
HOGG: Five thousand dollars was my great budget for that first year. And I will say I went over that budget.
MUHAMMAD: I probably don't need to tell you that, even in the '70s, five grand wasn't a lot of money to build a team. But Sonja found a way to make it work.
HOGG: This was my first year in coaching, 1974. And I had selected a little team from try-outs and put them together, 12 of them. And this group of young women most everyone of them had been a top player at their high school and from a small high school in the State of Louisiana.
My point guard that I selected was Mickie Demoss. She was All-State, and her team won the state championship.
DEMOSS: We had another guard, a black girl from right outside of Ruston, Belinda Jones, she could start for any collegiate team in the country right now, I mean we were just so lucky that she just happened to go to Louisiana Tech. You know, Ruston was like 20-minutes from her home, and she was really, really good.
HOGG: When you have kids that are used to winning and experienced in winning, it just makes it a whole lot easier.
DEMOSS: You know when Sonja Hogg told me that she had never coached basketball before, probably should have bothered me a little bit but it really didn't. It was just almost like, OK, well you have all these other plans for this program that probably a coach that really knows basketball doesn't have.
You know they don't have the vision that you have. Her vision was for the women's team to be just as popular as the men, to draw just as well as the men's team drew. For us to be treated as well as the men's team. And to be able to walk on campus and be proud of who we were and what we represented.
MUHAMMAD: It was a beautiful vision. But then there were Sonja's reality.
HOGG: The men's team obviously at Louisiana Tech had been around a lot longer so, you know, the people there, they had fans that had been around for decades. They've had former players that were now back watching sons that are playing.
They had a good following; they were a successful team. So I feel like they were viewed in a different light and of course they get the prime practice time.
MUHAMMAD: The men had practice at around 3:00 p.m. while the women had to wait until they done at 6:00.
HOGG: They traveled differently than we did, you know, they had the new bus, we had the old bus.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, the old bus, the bus the women had to use, it was kind of legendary.
DEMOSS: I think it was an old bus that the football team used to use, and the men's basketball team used to use. And it was just, you know, just an old bus, it was – half the time it'd start and half the time it wouldn't. And I guess they had named it "The Blue Goose". It was painted blue, it had Louisiana Tech University scribbled on the side of it. So – but I'm not – I'm not sure where they got the name "The Blue Goose" other than it was blue.
MUHAMMAD: "The Blue Goose", on one faithful day that old girl just stopped working.
DEMOSS: So we got off the main road and was wiggling back through the country and the road got real muddy and all this and "The Blue Goose" got stuck like it -- I mean literally would not get up the hill. And so we're going, oh, god, what are we going to do. So the bus driver was like, OK, everybody out, everybody out. Get behind it we're going to start pushing.
So we all got out of the bus including Sonja Hogg and started pushing the bus up that hill. And we got it where it needed to be.
HOGG: I messed up a pair of shoes and white pants pushing that thing. But we had all piled off, pushed that bus.
MUHAMMAD: Thinking about Sonja Hogg and her white pants pushing a bus is, yes, comical and a little ridiculous. But this moment it stuck it the mind of these early players because it was about so much more than just a bus.
HOGG: We were – we were a start-up company, you know. We were a start-up, so we knew that it was going to take time for people to catch on, for the community to embrace us. We didn't go in there demanding, well the men have this, we need this. I mean, my three years at Louisiana Tech, we never took a flight, you know, anywhere.
MUHAMMAD: But despite all this, Sonja was determined to make her team shine. To make something from the little they were getting. And to her, that all started with looking the part.
HOGG: The game uniforms, I had them specially made from Speedline, which was unheard of back in those days, because a lot of teams were just wearing the shorts and they would iron on the numbers to the t-shirts. And we were pretty flashy because we had custom-made uniforms.
Now, you know, our uniforms cost about as much as the budget. But we were going to do our business right, look like basketball players and act like basketball players.
MUHAMMAD: Sonja knew her team would eventually need a name.
HOGG: Our mascot at Louisiana Tech is a bulldog. But I didn't want to be called the Lady Bulldogs, because a lady dog has a different connotation in the south and I didn't want to give the opponents any food for fodder, like here comes Coach Hogg and all her little B's, you know.
MUHAMMAD: So, she picked a different name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, here are the starting line-up for the Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech --
MUHAMMAD: The team's name to this very day.
DEMOSS: You're a little girl and you dream of these moments where, you know, I'd be out in the driveway playing and I hit the winning bucket, or I would make up these scenarios in my head. And then when I'm there and I'm at Louisiana Tech and I'm representing a university across my chest on my jersey, I'm like, wow, you know, this is big time. This is big time.
HOGG: In our first -- first game I told the kids, I said, now look we have a game, and our very first game you're going to have your uniforms on, you're going to be looking good and you're going to be playing good.
And I said, now Mrs. Hogg's going to be dressed appropriately, hopefully, to match what you do on the floor. And -- and of course, I did, I wore the leathers and suedes and my husband bought me a white Cadillac and he personalized the license plate with Hogg on the back, H-O-G-G. That's the way I feel about the games. The games, you dress appropriately.
DUNKLE: I do remember my very first game at Louisiana Tech. I turned my ankle pretty bad, like about three or four days before the game started. And I was devastated, just devastated.
And so, I remember the trainer, the worked my ankle. They did the ice; they did the hot and the cold. I don't even know what all we did back then. I mean, it still really wasn't ready.
But I said, just tape it up as tight as you can tape it. I don't care, just tape it up. I thought I am going to play in this first game. I am going to play. And so, my ankle was taped so tight, and I played. And then, it -- I think it was in the second half, reinjured it and I was out. But I was like, I played. I played in our first game and that's all that mattered.
MUHAMMAD: But the Lady Techsters lost that game and only about 200 people showed up to watch. At this point, they could have easily been written off. But this is Sonja Hogg we're talking about. She wore white leather in the south. She had a vision. And so, despite all the odds, the Lady Techsters would soon become national champions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Louisiana Tech has been a powerhouse this afternoon, and for that matter, all season long.
MUHAMMAD: Their media (inaudible) rise after the break.
MUHAMMAD: It's 1976. Two years after Sonja Hogg started the Lady Techsters. Mickie Demoss is now a senior and things are about to seriously change for her team.
DEMOSS: There absolutely was a pivotal moment. And there was a pivotal game. We were hosting the state tournament and LSU has recruited these two women from Australia that were really, really good.
MUHAMMAD: Louisiana State University or simply LSU, was Louisiana Tech's rival.
DEMOSS: LSU was just kicking everybody's butt. And we were probably the second-best team in the state. And so, we were hosting that state tournament, this was my senior year, in 1977 and we hosted at Louisiana Tech. And the arena was sold out for that LSU game. I mean, the crowd was -- it was just electrifying. Students came. The townspeople came, you know, the community showed up. It was just a tremendous atmosphere and we beat them. And LSU went on to the final four that year. So, we knew that we were on our way.
MUHAMMAD: It also meant they could save on airfare.
DEMOSS: We knew didn't have to go all the way to Australia to get them, really good players wanted to come to Louisiana Tech.
MUHAMMAD: Remember, basketball was a common pastime for girls in the rural south. So, Louisiana Tech could find talent in their own backyard. This was a game-changer.
DEMOSS: I went into Sonja's office one day and I said, now Mrs. Hogg, some of my high school teammates are being recruited like by LSU, Northwestern, Southern. And I said, we've got to start recruiting. I said, we've got to start building this team. We were good, but, you know, I didn't want people to surpass us by getting, you know, more talent.
And she said, well just tell me where we need to go, what we need to do. And I said, well there's a former player that I played with, Eleanor Griffin. I said, I know Delta State's recruiting her. And she goes, well when can we get up there? So, I jumped in the car with Mrs. Hogg. She had this white Toronado. And, of course, I thought it was like the coolest car around. It was like a mafia car.
We went up to Lake Providence, watched her practice and Mrs. Hogg had put together this financial package to offer. And said, this is what, you know, we can offer you. We want you to come to Louisiana Tech. And she came to Louisiana Tech. And then we signed another kid from up in that area, a 6'4" kid.
So, that first group that we recruited, they took that program to another level, and it was because, you know, we got out and we hustled. We got out and we hustled and as Sonja became -- you know, she became one of the best recruiters ever in the game.
MUHAMMAD: Which is exactly how a year later Sonja happened to meet 18-year-old player Pam Kelly.
PAM KELLY: When she came to Caldwell Paris High School to recruit me, she came to a basketball game. She was driving a white Cadillac. She was wearing a white mink coat, white cashmere pants suit, and she had that white hair and she was immaculate.
You know, I just kind of fell in love with here. I didn't need to go anywhere else. I already knew once I met her that I was going there. And she is the reason that I went to Tech.
MUHAMMAD: Sonja Hogg became this kind of magnet, a person who could recruit the best players in the state. She wanted to win and win big, that's why that same year she walked into President Taylor's office with a pretty large ask. It was now 1978.
HOGG: I said, now, Dr. Taylor, we've done well within Louisiana and neighboring states. I said I'd like to take the program somewhere else in the country for visibility. And he said, well, what did you have in mind? I said, California. He said, California? I said, yes, sir.
MUHAMMAD: OK, you're probably familiar with UCLA men's basketball of the 1970s. Coach John Wooden, Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton while by late '70s their women's program was also a proud one. In fact, they were reigning national champions. Naturally, Sonja wanted to see how good they really were.
HOGG: Well, I knew I could probably schedule, I called out there, talked to Billie myself, and scheduled it for December.
MUHAMMAD: Billie Moore was the head coach of the UCLA Women's Basketball Team.
HOGG: I scheduled USC, UCLA, and Pepperdine all on one road trip. We played Pepperdine first and beat them. We played UCLA, the defending national champion the next game, we beat them too.
And that was the first time that Billie Moore and UCLA had ever lost a game in Pauley Pavilion since she'd been coaching at UCLA.
MUHAMMAD: This was already a big deal, and the Lady Techsters still had one more school to play.
HOGG: The very next night we had to play USC. And UCLA band got there early, and they were playing and cheering for us because we had just beaten UCLA the night before. But they didn't like USC so bad, they didn't mind who they cheered for.
But they did for us, and it was great. It was a great road trip. And when we landed back in Shreveport after that trip, we were ranked number eight in the country. And we never dropped lower than eight in the country while I was there.
MUHAMMAD: The Lady Techsters beat every California school they went up against. And they were now a top 10 team. This was the team Pam Kelly was joining.
PAM KELLY, FORMER PLAYER, LADY TECHSTERS: We were a problem from day one for everybody. And we were a problem because of our work ethics. We just always believed that we were going to win. You know, being losers never crossed our mind, it wasn't an option. And I think my whole four years we lost 10 games, so we didn't get used to that.
MUHAMMAD: the Lady Techsters had become a winning team, one that everybody wanted to see.
HOGG: The old Memorial Gym only held 4,500 and we'd squeeze 5,000 or more in there. People were sitting on the floor up to the baseline, people were sitting over the doors as you exited. The fire marshal would have to call the president because we squeezed, I know, 6,000 in there several times.
That's when we couldn't start our games before 7:00 because people would drive two hours one way to see us play in the middle of the week. When I started the program from day one, Dr. Taylor said, Sonja, I don't want you to be an appendage of the men's program, verbatim.
MUHAMMAD: It had taken the better part of a decade but now the Lady Techsters were definitely not an appendage of the men's program or any program. In fact, they kind of became the school's selling point.
HOGG: I mean, we were back in the gym, and, you know, the men weren't. And Andy Russo was the head boy's coach then and he wanted to have a double-header to help his team enter the tenants for the men.
MUHAMMAD: For context, the men's team had just recruited Karl Malone, Malone would go on to be one of the strongest power forwards in NBA history.
MUHAMMAD: Coach Russo was worried that not enough people would show up to Malone's first game. And so, he was hoping the women would play that night too.
HOGG: We sat down in the A.D.'s office and I said, we'll have a double-header because, you know, up to that time we hadn't had any double-headers. And I said, but we'll play at 7:00 and the men have to play at 9:00, and he agreed to it. But you know, fans still left after our game, they still left.
MUHAMMAD: This is what the Lady Techsters have become, 6,000 plus people showing up to their games. A full press circuit, Sonja even said that at one point people were scalping Lady Techsters tickets. And for the women who were lucky enough to play in those years, well, it was like they had joined a completely different team.
KELLY: We went into these fine restaurants, and she made sure we went to the fine restaurants. We traveled on airplanes, we probably was one of the only teams that was flying in airplanes wherever we went. We stayed in the best hotels, you know, she just took care of us. And she showed us how we should act, you know.
MUHAMMAD: This was a far cry from the days of broken buses, thin crowds, and home-cooked meals. Mickie Demoss, who'd graduated in 1977 still remembers what it was like to watch her former team succeed.
DEMOSS: They were the team to beat, they had great players, and they had the president, and they had all the support from the community, and from the state of Louisiana all the way to the governor.
And so, you knew you had to be at your best when you went there. No margin for error when you played Louisiana Tech because they were going to capitalize on any of your mistakes.
MUHAMMAD: This team stood atop women's college basketball, and they were one of the early Title IX success stories. They proved that women could and should play sports. They proved that woman's basketball could be just as popular, more popular even than the men's game.
HOGG: I think it's a tremendous opportunity. Women's sports, team sports, it's a great opportunity for our young women. They'd learn to work together, give, take, compete, and it does everything for a young woman that it does for a young man.
MUHAMMAD: But this story can't be told in isolation. While this team was finding its footing a lot was unfolding in 1970s America. Sure, Title IX had passed but not everyone was happy about that.
In the next few years, those forces would begin conspiring, preparing a strike. And the legendary Lady Techsters, they'd get caught up in a battle between the women who wanted to run American sport and the men who wanted to take that away from them.
In Their Court is written and produced by Preeti Varathan and Abe Selby. Olivia Richard is our associate producer. Additional production help and fact-checking from Amelia Acosta and Sarah Hughes. Original music by Jesse McGinty.
Sound design by Rick Kwan. Bryson Barnes is our technical director. Steven Roberts and Reid Cherlin are our Executive Producers. Madeleine Haeringer is our head of editorial. Special thanks to Patrick Hart.