By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It is easy to think of Title IX in the abstract, a federal law that brought equality in sports to women, but that understates the real effect, the personal effect upon one person, one athlete whose life’s path was changed by Title IX.
Meet Sarah Miles, recently graduated West Virginia University women’s basketball player, a lady who would have been facing an uncertain future were it not for the opportunities that Title IX gave her.
“I’ll be honest. If it wasn’t for Title IX I probably wouldn’t have been in college,” she said the other day, sitting inside the magnificent new WVU basketball facility that the women’s team shares — equally — with the men. “That definitely gave females an extra boost, educationally especially.”
Miles was approached to talk about Title IX and what it meant for her because WVU women’s basketball coach Mike Carey singled her out when asked if he could direct us to the player of his that might have benefited most from Title IX.
“I look at a young lady like Sarah Miles,” he said. “We get her out of San Antonio. She didn’t have a lot of offers. She comes here and has some challenges. She came a long way because of Title IX, because of the help we were able to give her and because of the resources we have.
“She was able to graduate and now has an opportunity to go out and be very successful in the world.”
Miles arrived at West Virginia as a talented athlete who really had not been very well prepared for college.
“I probably would have gone to the military or something ... something active. I played basketball in high school, so it would have been something active,” she said.
Maybe she would have thrived in the military, maybe made it a career, maybe learned a trade ... maybe, maybe, maybe.
“Words can’t explain my life story,” she said. “My mom is a single parent. I have a younger and older brother. There was no way she could send me to college out of her pocket.
“College never really crossed my mind in high school,” she said.
She had crossed the mind of many colleges.
While Coach Carey said Miles didn’t have many offers coming out of high school, she disagrees with a smile.
“I had more offers than I told him about,” she said coyly.
The problem was they didn’t remain offers very long.
“I didn’t take school seriously enough, so I lost a lot of offers. It was like I wasn’t going to take my SATs when they offered them,” she said.
While other teams dropped out, Carey and West Virginia stayed in there, knowing there was talent in Sarah Miles and knowing they would need someone to run the offense.
“They stuck around for me. They didn’t give up. A lot of schools did stop calling me after I wasn’t going to take my SATs or wasn’t calling them back. (Carey assistant) Coach Chester Nichols is who brought me in. He would call and call and make sure I was doing my school work.”
He invited Miles in for a recruiting visit, and Miles remembers it well.
“When I went on my visit my mom and my AAU coach were like, ‘Don’t come back to Texas without committing,’” she said. “I didn’t go back to Texas without committing.”
Committing was one thing, but actually getting a degree?
That wasn’t part of the picture then.
“My freshman year I was ready to go home. I would be in his office every day saying, ‘Just send me back to Texas. I don’t want to be here. I’m homesick. Please send me back.’ But Coach Carey was like, ‘No, you’ll be all right by the end of the year. You’ll be fine.’”
And she was.
“I got through my first year, and each year after that I matured more and more, not only on the court but as a female I grew more mature,” she said.
In her second season she was voted the Big East’s Most Improved Player, while in her third year she was moved to point guard for the first time, led the Big East in steals (95) and assists (200), and made all-Big East second team while being named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
As she entered her senior season last year she was thinking of a career in the WNBA or, at least, overseas, but she suffered through a dismal, injury-plagued year. She missed eight games due to a knee injury and was slowed in those she did play, finishing eight points short of 1,000 for her career.
“I get so teary-eyed talking about my senior year,” she admitted. “If there was any year I’d want back it would be my senior year so I could put everything together and go out with a bang.”
She wound up with no pro contract, but now has an agent and is hoping to head overseas to play, with the WNBA the ultimate goal.
If not, she has her college degree and experience to fall back on.
“It means a lot to me and my family, to be one of the first out of my mom’s family to graduate. I finished high school. I finished college, and now I’m trying to go on and continue what I started,” she said. “I plan on making it to the WNBA someday, but I know I have to take baby steps after what I went through my last season.”
College, though, has changed her life. Asked what Title IX meant to her by giving her the opportunity, she answered:
“Everything! Where should I start, academically or life in general? What I took out of it was what to expect in life. Being in college prepares you for what’s next. Each year I learned and grew, but each year it was something different.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.