West Hartford celebrates 50 years of girls sports and Title IX

Hartford Courant/TNS
·4 min read

In early 1972 a group of parents, students and teachers went to a meeting of the West Hartford Board of Education to ask for funding for girls varsity sports.

This was before Title IX, which would prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funding, was enacted in June of 1972.

“We didn’t think about history,” said Suzi D’Annolfo, a cross country and track coach and physical education teacher at Conard who became West Hartford’s first female athletic director in 1979. “We did it because we had these great kids at Hall and Conard that wanted to play so badly.

“When one board member asked, ‘What sports would you cut for boys?’ I thought, ‘Oh, please pass this. How could we wake up tomorrow morning and tell these girls we couldn’t have sports for them?”

To the question, D’Annolfo replied, “None. If it’s good enough for the boys, it’s good enough for the girls.”

The board passed it and in the spring of 1972 girls tennis and track and field were offered for the first time at Conard and Hall high schools. More sports were added that fall and winter.

On Wednesday night, D’Annolfo and former and current Conard and Hall athletes and coaches gathered at Hall for an event titled “Passing The Torch,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the start of girls sports in West Hartford.

Betty Remigino-Knapp attended that 1972 school board meeting and spoke up for the girls. Her father, Lindy Remigino, was an Olympic track gold medalist, and her mother, June, was athletic and encouraged her four daughters to play sports. Remigino-Knapp, who now coaches the Hall girls track and cross country teams, went on to coach at UConn and was the West Hartford schools athletic director for 20 years.

“We didn’t have the opportunities girls have today,” said Remigino-Knapp, who graduated from Hall in 1973. “We didn’t have cross country. We were not allowed to run over 800 meters in our track meets.”

Others talked about how organized sports had empowered them in life. Carson Bond, who graduated from Conard in 1976, went on to become an Air Force pilot and later a pilot for American Airlines for 32 years.

“Fifty years ago I was a pretty insecure kid, but Title IX offered me the opportunity to play sports in West Hartford,” Bond said. “Being the captain of Conard’s basketball team has some similarities to managing the crew of a 737. I don’t think I could have been an Air Force pilot had it not been for school sports.”

Marsha Adell, who graduated from Conard in 1993, became the first Black woman to serve as deputy fire marshal in West Hartford earlier this year after spending two decades as a firefighter.

“I was very fortunate to have some awesome coaches,” said Adell, who ran cross country and track and played basketball at Conard. " All of them played a huge role in me being able to set strong goals, goals that are attainable but challenging. That really formed who I am today as an individual.”

Karissa Niehoff, the former CIAC executive director who is now the CEO of the National Federation of State High School Associations, was the keynote speaker. She said that while women in sports have come a long way in 50 years, there is still a long way to go toward expanding opportunities for women in sports in administration, coaching and officiating.

“I’m one of the first woman CEOs to run a national sports organization,” she said. “There is still no line at the ladies’ room.

“I laugh with my colleagues, but you never lose the feeling that when you walk in the room, you’re the only woman and you feel like there’s a little bit more to prove and a little bit more to say.”

Niehoff noted that she was mentored by D’Annolfo while teaching and coaching and serving as an athletic administrator in Connecticut.

“We need to develop a more robust pipeline for women to fill these roles,” she said. “We need to give these young women the next step. Who takes their hand when they leave West Hartford? Suzi held my hand, every step of the way. We need Suzies. Tonight your call is to be a Suzi.”

Lori Riley can be reached by lriley@courant.com.