By Emma Hunt, UCSB Athletics Communications
Forty years ago, Title IX was enacted.
It ordered, among other things, that any institution receiving federal money provide equal opportunities for men and women. From an athletic standpoint, the act meant that, ultimately, there would be more money and opportunities for women athletes.
UC Santa Barbara's head women's volleyball coach, Kathy Gregory, has been a prominent leader and contributor to the advancement of women's athletics. As the head coach of the Gauchos for 37 years, she began her coaching career shortly after Title IX was implemented and she has seen the evolution.
Gregory began coaching women's volleyball at UCSB in 1975, three years after the passage of Title IX. In the early years, her team practiced in the aptly named "Old Gym," which no longer exists.
"It was 110 degrees inside," she recalled. "I also had to set up my own nets, I had no assistant coaches and there were no scholarships. After that first year, I thought 'I don't know if I can do this job'."
A few years later, the team began practicing in Robertson Gymnasium, but little else changed for Gregory. She was teaching ten classes and coaching full time without any help. However, things opened up for her when the department offered her a 50/50 contract. She would teach 50-percent of the time and coach 50-percent of the time. Soon after, scholarships were given to her program, which allowed for enhanced recruitment and all in all, a more improved team.
Title IX began to have a greater impact in 1981 when the women's volleyball program had six scholarships. That same year, the national governing body for women's athletics, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), lost its battle to maintain prominence in women's college sports to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and the combination of events contributed greatly to UCSB's emergence.
Gregory knew that once UCSB made a commitment to all women's sports, everything would elevate and make it a much easier situation to recruit and get quality athletes, as well as great students, to come to the school.
She was right. The change in governing bodies meant more stature, more rules, but mainly, it opened up doors. Being an NCAA sport meant you had to offer a certain number of scholarships — so scholarships increased to 12 — and the Gauchos began to take off. That year, the volleyball program had a perfect season (12-0) and was ranked sixth in the nation.
Gregory has had a major impact overall on collegiate volleyball. In fact, her UCSB teams were one of just four to advance to the first 27 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Would her sports success been possible without the passage of Title IX?
"I don't think so because I think that you have to have an equal playing field," she said. "Every university has so many benefits in what they offer, but you have to have the scholarships."
While some men's athletic facilities still look like palaces in comparison to the women's facilities, there has also been a 545% increase in female participation in college athletics since 1972.
When asked if she is happy she stuck it out to develop one of the finest women's volleyball programs in the nation, Gregory is adamant.
"The first few years were tough, but after that, it was the wisest and smartest decision I've ever made," she said. "The years that I had to work harder than I have ever worked in my entire life taught me the foundation to have the gratitude and have the appreciation for what I have right now: a great facility, a great Events Center, full scholarships. So I think sometimes you have to tough it out and go through tough times to have the appreciation for what you really have."
Gregory summed up the impact of Title IX, in her view.
"There are so many opportunities for a woman no matter what level," she said. "I think the biggest thing about Title IX is that every woman has the chance to go to an academic school and to play at a competitive level of sports. Of course those that reach the higher level have the opportunity to play professionally or at the Olympics, but all I think everyone wants is just that chance to compete."
Not only has she been one of the most successful women's volleyball coaches in history, Gregory was one of the most successful women's volleyball players in the over 100-year history of the sport. She was a team member of the U.S. Pan American and World Games teams. In addition, Gregory was captain of the San Diego Breakers, a professional volleyball team that had four men and two women. Under the United States Volleyball Association, she was named an All-Star 15 times, selected as Most Valuable Player four times, and, in 1984, she was presented an All-Time Great Volleyball Players Award.
Nicknamed "Queen of the Beach," Gregory won top honors as Women's Beach Tournament Player of the Year in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, and 1983. She was also a two-time World Beach Champion who was known for her outstanding athletic talent, but also her commentary on the court. She would interact with the crowd while playing on the beach. The dialog would range from reassurances and critiques of her partner to verbal attacks on her opponents. A common taunt Gregory shouted was "Is that the best you got!" She claims that her verbal outbursts would keep her relaxed and that she enjoyed it.
Gregory was a pioneer in beach volleyball and she has seen the sport that she helped champion in the early days emerge as one of the most popular sports at the Olympic Games and, in recent years, as an NCAA sponsored sport and another avenue for increased opportunities for women athletes.
"When I played, it wasn't about the money," she said. "It was about the love of the game and now it represents more opportunities for women to go to college and earn scholarships. That makes me happy."
Gregory hopes that UCSB joins the growing ranks of schools that sponsor beach volleyball at the intercollegiate level. She believes it would be another great opportunity for women to play in their off season. Gregory believes scholarships are not as available for beach volleyball as for indoor volleyball, but its existence will provide new opportunities for women, and that is what it is all about.