Mechanicsburg, State College set to play an historic game at Penn State, honoring 50 years of Title IX, and the future of field hockey

The thought of a girls’ high school field hockey team traveling 100 miles to compete in an athletic event was unimaginable 50 years ago.

But, on Friday, Oct. 7, Mechanicsburg will join State College at Penn State University to play in a Mid-Penn Conference contest. The game, however, isn’t at the heart of what the players will experience.

“I want today’s youth to understand Title IX,” State College head coach Sharon Herlocher said. “And to make sure every person they know understands it.”

Title IX was passed into law on June 23, 1972. The federal law made history for enforcing equity in education and in sports. This year marked 50 years of its impact on female athletes.

“Obviously, this is an important year,” said State College Athletic Director Christopher Weakland. “It’s the anniversary of Title IX. My wife played volleyball at Penn State and my daughter played volleyball at Winthrop in South Carolina. I believe there is 100 percent value for all kids, but especially for young women, to empower them to play sports. We hope this opportunity provides them an enjoyable moment that they are going to remember for a long time.”

The State College field hockey team attended Penn State’s 50 years of Title IX celebration on June 23. Herlocher, a Nittany Lion field hockey alum, was moved by the significance of what the law has done for female athletes.

So, she approached Penn State’s Head Coach Char Morett-Curtiss with an idea to extend its celebration.

Morett-Curtiss, a U.S. Olympian who was a member of the United States Women’s National Team in the 1980s and a Penn State field hockey alum, was “extremely supportive,” Herlocher said.

When Herlocher, as well as the Mechanicsburg coach look at their teams, they see young women learning their place in the world.

“We have a great group who’s very supporting of one another,” Herlocher said of her 2022 Little Lions. “They embody the entire idea of Title IX – to believe you can do anything.”

But that’s not always the case. There are still subtle and not-so-subtle examples of discrimination in female sports. As much as many desire the day when an athlete is just an athlete – not designated by gender – the change is still a work in progress.

The days of a woman having to blend in as “one of the guys,” still exists. While other women, treated unequally, only seek being treated with dignity and respect.

At Friday’s game, players, coaches, fans, and women, who have paved the way, are going to be treated with both respect and recognition. Female athletes who played sports in high school, college, or professionally, are going to be recognized, Weakland said.  

The Wildcats junior varsity is scheduled to play at noon. Varsity will follow at 1:30 p.m. In-between games, the players will celebrate Title IX.

“I am excited for the girls to learn more and embrace Title IX and what it means and stands for,” Mechanicsburg head coach Tonya Brown said. “I will incorporate some stories from when I first started to play, and hand down some stories from the coaches who I played for, so they truly understand how fortunate they are, and they need to carry the torch for the next generation.”

There’s still work to be done for equality in athletics, Brown said. She praised State College’s administration for connecting the past to the present in such a visual way.

“It is going to be a great day filled with good hockey, new friendships, and a fun time for all the players,” Brown said.

While not every player is going to be college-bound, they will gain insight into what it’s like to be a Division I player for a day. The ‘Cats and Little Lions, once the score has been settled, are invited back to the turf to watch one of the nation’s best Big Ten field hockey showdowns.

No. 3 Penn State plays host to No. 6 Iowa at 6 p.m.

“My hope is we have a fun day, from the time we board the bus, until we arrive home in every aspect of what we do,” Brown said. “From the game, to the tailgate, and getting to meet the Lions of State College. Of course, the Creamery will be a plus, and hopefully, they will see an amazing PSU hockey team beat Iowa.”

A generous donor stepped up to afford the day for the players.

“Celebrating 50 years of Title IX,” Herlocher said. “The opportunities of Title IX have allowed girls for more than 50 years to believe we can do anything. That’s what I want every person on and off the field to believe. We can do anything.”

Here’s what coaches said about their teams pre-game:

“This group lifts one another up,” Herlocher said. “We’ve had 10 different goal scorers to date.  This team is very unselfish and is the true meaning of a team. I just love coaching them. When I say team, I mean, from the newest JV player to the experienced tri-captains, to the 5 managers, to the coaches. We each understand our roles, how we fit into this team, and we do everything we can to push each other to be better every day. We have a great group of seniors who came up with our mantra of all in.  #DTW(down to work). The tone, energy, and connectedness those seven seniors bring, makes me feel like we win every day.” 

“I am so proud of these young ladies, all 35 of them, for putting Team first,” Brown said. “We have learned and experienced the battle of the Keystone Division, and there is nothing else like it in the country. We are battle scarred and battle ready for any team. We will do it together as Wildcats.”

State College is in the Mid-Penn Conference Commonwealth Division in District 3. Mechanicsburg is in the Keystone Division. Both are 10-2-1.

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