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Miami track & field coach Amy Deem talks childhood, Title IX

Title IX, the 1972 federal law mandating gender equity at educational institutions, commemorates its 50th anniversary Thursday.

Amy Deem, 56, is the University of Miami director of track and field/cross-country, making her one of a handful of coaches among Power 5 schools to be the head coach of the men’s and women’s programs. Deem served as the UM women’s coach from June 1990 to 2008. She has coached 18 UM track and field national champions and more than 140 All-Americans. She served as the 2012 US Olympic women’s track coach in London, where her athletes won 14 medals. Deem had an athletic scholarship for track and field at Ohio University, where she earned her undergraduate degree. She is a member of the UM Sports Hall of Fame and US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Growing up in the country on five acres of land in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Amy Deem had plenty of opportunity to roam free with her friends, four dogs and two horses.

“I had no brothers or sisters,” Deem said. “I was a tomboy, always outside playing. When we weren’t in school, I’d be outside from early morning until night. I always got in trouble because I had to be back inside by dark, but when I walked in the door my mom would be fussing at me because I pushed the limit.”

Deem’s mother was a registered nurse and her father, a pharmacist who owned his own business, was “kind of old school,” she said. “But he was very sports-minded. I was involved in tennis and swimming and racing everybody in the neighborhood. I was very competitive in sports.”

That included pickup baseball, which she played with the boys in the open fields.

In the mid-1970s, a few years after Title IX had been enacted and Deem was “8 or 9,” those boys had signed up for Little League and wanted Deem, a pitcher, to join.

“They went to my dad and were like, ‘You gotta let her play.’ She’s really good,” Deem said. “My dad drew the line at that. He wasn’t ready for me to play on an all-boys team. He was adamant. It was, ‘No.’”

Deem said her father never brought up the Little League decision afterward, but lamented with her through the years that there were no organized soccer leagues in her little town and wished that women’s pole vault had been added to track and field when she competed.

“My dad was a very matter-of-fact guy,” Deem said. “He was very supportive and knowledgeable but he believed girls play with girls and guys play with guys. We had a really small girls’ softball league at that time but it wasn’t like it is today. We just didn’t end up sticking with it.”

Does she ever think about missing out on Little League?

“I’m still mad today,” she said, laughing.

What does Title IX mean to you?

“I clearly wouldn’t have been at [UM] at the age I was hired if I wasn’t a beneficiary of Title IX. I have a little bit of a different perspective. In track and field, now it’s more normal to have one coach over both programs. But even so, track has always been men and women training together, even with separate teams and scores. Coaching the men’s and women’s programs, I have to balance the things they each need to make sure they’re all successful. Ever since I was an Olympic coach in 2012, women in this country have significantly increased the medal count. And that is a product of opportunities at a younger age. Opportunity comes from Title IX.”

You mentioned that Title IX being enacted in the first place is something that for a person like you is hard to grasp. Why?

“I’m the type of person that looks at what’s right, and unfortunately in our world things don’t happen just because they’re right. You wouldn’t think you’d need Title IX to provide opportunities, but we needed these incentives for people to do the right things. If you’re providing opportunities for young boys then why wouldn’t you provide the same opportunities for young women?”

Is reminding your athletes about the history of Title IX an imperative for you?

“I’m not the best at it, but I think history is important in understanding how far women have come in the last 50 years. Perspective is always good. I look at it more as a role of trying to educate young women that they have endless opportunities. There has never been a better time to be a woman.”

This story was originally published June 22, 2022 9:00 AM.