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Swimmers diving into the pool

Sandra Bucha Helped Establish Women’s Athletics. Now She’s Watching That Progress Disappear.

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
September 14, 2020

Sandra Bucha’s swimming career began at age 10. Three years later, she was nationally competitive.

At that point, there weren’t any girls’ high school swim teams. So Sandra’s coach struck a deal with her and a handful of other girls: If they achieved girls’ Amateur Athletic Union national qualifying times, he would allow them to continue training with the boys’ high school swim team.

Sandra made the cut. The other girls didn’t.

For the next four years, Sandra trained with the boys. On the day of the team’s meets, she would train with them in the morning, cheer and record times for them at the meet later that afternoon, and then practice with them again the next day.

During Sandra’s senior year of high school, her dad contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He watched Sandra train with the boys’ team for four years. He saw the careers of other girls stop short when they didn’t make national cuts. He witnessed the boys get to enjoy competing in high school while his daughter cheered from the pool deck.

He knew it wasn’t fair.

With the help of the ACLU, Sandra and another female athlete filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association. The lawsuit, Bucha v. Illinois High School Association, fought for the right of girls to compete  on the boys’ team under the same qualifications, since at that point there were no girls’ teams in the state.

Ultimately, a federal court ruled against them, stating that there was a rational basis for having separate boys’ and girls’ teams, as boys have physical advantages over girls.

But the same year that this lawsuit was decided, in 1972, Congress passed Title IX, which paved the way for equal athletic opportunities for women.

Within two years, girls were competing on female swim teams at Sandra’s high school.


Threatening Progress

Almost 50 years later, hundreds of thousands of female athletes enjoy the opportunity to participate in high school and college athletics every year.

But all that progress is now being threatened.

You need look no further than Connecticut to see this is true. There, a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy allows male athletes who identify as female to compete on girls’ teams. As a result, two male athletes have dominated the high school girls’ track and field competitions. Together, they’ve taken 15 state titles that previously belonged to nine different girls.

Athletes in the NCAA Big Sky Conference know this to be true as well. In the indoor track & field conference championships earlier this year, a male athlete—who had previously competed on the University of Montana men’s team for three seasons—dominated the women’s mile.

Situations like these are why Idaho passed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which simply reserves women’s sports for female athletes. It’s amazing that we live in a day and age where this law is even needed.

The reality is that men and women are different, and those differences matter. These differences are especially evident in sports. Men have larger muscles, stronger bones, and greater lung capacity.

Our laws and policies should reflect this reality, which goes back to why men’s and women’s sports were separated in the first place.

ADF represents female athletes in Connecticut and Idaho as they ask the courts to protect a level playing field for girls and women. After all, if we allow male athletes to start competing in the female category, we will be back to where we started 50 years ago: Women and girls will be spectators in their own sports.

Surprisingly, the very organization that fought for the right of women and girls to compete on their own sports teams is now working to erase that progress. Today, the ACLU has flipped sides, and represents the male athletes who identify as female and want the right to compete against—and take victories, records, and recognition from—girls and women.

That irony is not lost on Sandra.

She knows what it’s like to be denied an equal opportunity to compete. She trained hard and yet was forced to watch from the sidelines. And she was the “lucky one.” She earned the opportunity to continue training with the boys’ team while the swimming careers of her fellow female teammates were cut short.

Sandra doesn’t want other female athletes to experience the same disappointments.

Not if she can help it.


Saving Women’s Sports

Earlier this year, Sandra signed a letter to the NCAA along with more than 300 current and former female athletes asking it not to boycott Idaho for passing a commonsense law that protects female athletes.

Now, you can make your voice heard on this issue as well. Here’s how:

  1. If you are or were an NCAA or professional athlete, you can add your name to the NCAA letter.
  2. If you support protecting female athletes from being forced to compete against biological males, you can add your name to this petition asking the Trump Administration and Members of Congress to safeguard the athletic and academic futures of young women across the country.


Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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