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Driving Force

McIntyre's advocacy created change and opportunities

Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2022 - 8:30 PM

Dorothy McIntyre Bus

While she’s famously known for driving the bus, Dorothy McIntyre’s legacy will forever be known as that of a driving force that set girls sports in Minnesota on a trajectory that has created equal opportunities and equal facilities. With Title IX set to mark its 50th year of federal legislation passage this month, no Minnesota State High School League salute is complete without spotlighting McIntyre, who drove from border to border as Minnesota’s most visible proponent in a crusade to permit equal opportunities for girls.

“All I have to do now is to look at the face of a young woman that just accomplished something great to know that it made all of those years of blood, sweat and tears very worthwhile,” McIntyre recently shared with Connect.

McIntyre joined the League in 1970 as an associate director to assist member schools in developing girls sports programming. As it has in many instances over the past five decades, the League was a national trailblazer prior to Title IX legislation being signed into federal law in June of 1972. It was three years earlier that the League’s 32-member delegation approved the addition of girls sports following the efforts of community and state leaders urging official adoption.

Girls sports in Minnesota does date long before the enactment of Title IX.

During the recent NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four hosted in Minneapolis, McIntyre’s legacy and impact was revisited countlessly by basketball historians. She was saluted for co-authoring “Daughters of the Game: First Era of Minnesota Girls High School Basketball.” The history of girls basketball dates to 1883, a handful of years after Dr. James Naismith invented the game.

By 1900, girls basketball in Minnesota was played from border to border. From 1929-39, the Grand Meadow High School girls basketball team won a state-record 94 consecutive games. That team was inducted into the League’s Hall of Fame Class of 2019. Girls swimming, too, was immensely popular in the early decades of the 1900’s, especially on the Iron Range.

But by 1942, girls basketball and girls swimming began to disappear in the wake of medical studies that claimed competitive sports could be harmful to a woman’s body. That void in organized athletics for girls would last for three decades.

Among those seeds for change in that decades-long void was McIntyre, a farm girl that grew up in Iowa, who knew that constant nurturing and cultivating could evolve into something vibrant.

In the early 1960s, and after a two-year stop at her first teaching job at Ellendale-Geneva in southern Minnesota, McIntyre took a teaching position in the Eden Prairie School District. One of her roles was overseeing the Girls Recreation Association, a club-type setting where girls could participate in sports and other activities. But it was just for fun. There were no games or other competitions.

The girls’ participants were also eager for more.

Many would approach McIntyre on a daily basis and inquire why they couldn’t have opportunities with games and competitions like the boys had. The inquiries merely stoked what McIntyre had been asking for decades. McIntyre took it from there and approached school administrators about a plan that would permit travel to nearby schools for unofficial scrimmages, similar to what the boys did. But travel was an issue. She was told that if she could learn to drive a bus and accompany the girls, the plan could proceed.

McIntyre wasted little time in becoming licensed to drive a bus, and the metaphor would stick, not only at Eden Prairie, but in the decades to come as she became a public advocate for change, namely expanded opportunities for girls and athletic opportunities.

“It was time to continue asking that singular question of why girls weren’t afforded the same athletic opportunities as boys,” McIntyre said. “It was a question that had been burning for decades. “Why not us?’’

In 1966, McIntyre was honored for her tireless work on local, state and national committees to organize girls sports. While she is quick to say that she wasn’t alone in her efforts, she would become the primary voice of advocacy.

“If anyone had looked at my qualifications back then, they saw one big thing,” McIntyre said. “It was my passion to change things and open doors for girls for something they should have been doing for 30 or 40 years rather than sitting in the stands. We went door to door and worked hard. We kept at it because we believed in what we were doing. We were planting the seeds for change, and it was coming up beautifully.”

In 1968, McIntyre and a group of advocates authored bylaws for girls athletics. Those bylaws were presented to the 32 delegates assembled at the famed Curtis Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. In a vote of 32-0, the delegation supported bringing back athletic opportunities for girls.

Dorothy McIntyre 2

Her travels across Minnesota were marked by countless stops in the quest to educate on change. She and others visited communities in Greater Minnesota with small-enrollment member schools and large schools in the Twin Cities metro. Support was strong and enthusiastic, but advocacy wasn’t always a smooth road.

“People in the schools really encouraged us to keep talking and sharing the message that change was coming,” she said. “There were also days that were quite difficult in sharing the message because there was resistance. But as I look back, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

McIntyre shares a particular anecdote to illustrate the naysayers.

On a stop in northern Minnesota, there was a group of dads in the back row, including boys hockey coaches, with their arms folded and grim faces. McIntyre had shared with the group that girls hockey was coming fast.

“One of the guys in back said, quietly, “Over my dead body,” McIntyre shared. “I can read lips. I replied, that is your choice. I shared that change is coming, it is going to happen. Everyone had to give a little and learn.”

McIntyre was hired by the League in 1970 to implement girls sports programming and assist member schools in preparation.

“(President Teddy Roosevelt) said “Speak softly and carry a big stick,’’’ McIntyre says with a smile. “Our big stick was Title IX. It was a great stick to carry. With the charge of developing girls sports, I had a lot of friends and supporters that had my back. A lot of credit goes to me, but really, it was a huge community that were supporters and proponents of letting the girls take their place in the athletics world.”

When Title IX was approved on June 23, 1972, 37 words became the powerful force of the federal legislation:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

“In Minnesota, when the ink was dried from the signing of Title IX, we were already well down the road,” McIntyre said. “While other states were wondering what the first steps would be, Minnesota was already developing programs.”

In the spring of 1972, the League hosted the first track and field state meet for girls. In McIntyre’s first seven years with the League, she administered the creation of 11 state tournaments for girls sports. Currently, there are nearly 30 co-curricular activities that girls have access to, in part, to Title IX requirements.

Dorothy McIntyre 4

“I am forever grateful for the incredible opportunities I had through co-curricular activities and Ms. McIntyre was an incredible reason for that,” said former League Associate Director Lisa Lissimore, who participated in the 1976 girls basketball state tournament. “I remember her sitting in the penalty box area of Met Center where the tournament was played. She would look at everything that was unfolding with the tournament, and she’d smile. She was so happy for all of us to be able to experience that.”

Lissimore, who retired in April after 34 years of service with the League, helped St. Paul Central to the Class AA championship.

“Listening to the National Anthem gave me chills,” McIntyre said of that tournament. “Somewhere in that mix was No. 15, a sophomore from St. Paul Central. I might not have handed (Lissimore) a gold medal, but I’d like to think that I did. She earned it then and she’s earned one for all she’s done in her professional life. She moved through her college years and we would meet again. We were mentors for each other. It has been a wonderful journey with Lisa and watch her become the role model, the one challenging the doors.”

McIntyre retired from League service in 2002. A year later, she was inducted into the League’s Hall of Fame as well as the National High School Hall of Fame for her advocacy. Even in retirement, she enthusiastically engages listeners with the journey of girls sports in Minnesota.

“I look at what we were doing, and are doing, goes far beyond sports,” McIntyre said. “We are creating someone that is strong and will go out into the world and make a difference.”

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