You imagine the late Patsy Mink would enjoy the deep irony of her induction into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame tonight as much as the accolades.
Of the more than 100 people in the Hall to date, it would be hard to find someone whose career seemed less destined to take her there but whose defining work has had a more enduring impact on sports in Hawaii — and far beyond.
Make no mistake about it, the former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, through a piece of legislation that carries her name, has helped change the face of sports by mandating that no one can be subjected to sexual discrimination related to federally funded educational opportunities.
The "Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act" as Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 became known after her 2002 death, afforded two generations of women overdue opportunities and experiences their mothers and grandmothers could scarcely have imagined. It opened wide the doors of high school, college and professional opportunities to women.
Proof of that tonight is that two local high school volleyball stars, Robyn Ah Mow-Santos and Lindsey Berg, who went on to make it big in college and play on U.S. Olympic teams, will be feted as inductees along with Mink at a banquet at Honolulu Country Club.
In 1972, when Mink was a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, the only woman on scholarship among 8,245 female undergraduates at the University of Hawaii was the drum majorette. Among the $1 million spent on athletics at UH at the time, just $5,000 went to women and that was for club sports.
In that, UH wasn’t all that distant from much of intercollegiate athletics of the day.
Legend has it that the landmark legislation had some of its roots in Mink’s own early frustrations, though they were more academic than athletic. Believing she was turned down for medical school and kept from fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming a doctor because of her gender, Mink is said to have never forgotten the disappointment.
Which is one reason why Mink and Oregon representative Edith Green, who authored key passages of what became Title IX, were so determined to help guide it through several years of floor fights and legislative hurdles.
Yet, the finished product was hardly imagined as having a revolutionary impact on sports.
"We didn’t think that much about sports at the time," Mink recalled after the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship. "We were looking more at the educational opportunities — fellowships, scholarships, opportunities to get into graduate school and vocational education. But, in the long haul, the most dramatic results have come in the field of athletics."
Now, nearly 40 years after then-President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, the ripples are all around us.
Every Rainbow Wahine volleyball match or softball game, each WNBA basketball game or woman on the gold-medal stand in the Olympics for the U.S., pays tribute to Mink’s sporting legacy, intended or not.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.