Local softball teams recently wrapped up their season.
Some found success by winning a state tournament game or two, while others are looking ahead to next year.
Whether the season ended with cheers or promises of “we’ll do better next time,” one thing is certain: without the likes of women like Judy Morey, an Iola native and pioneer for women’s athletics, few girls would experience the amazing life lessons learned through sports participation.
Morey grew up in Northland. Her early education was in a one-room school just north of Northland. Graduating from Iola High School in 1956 and in 1960 from Wisconsin State College at La Crosse, she used her physical education and recreation degree to make her way back to Iola, where she eventually accepted a teaching position in 1963. Though the opportunities for sports when she was young were limited, she made the best of the ones available.
“In grade school, the big sport was softball and boys and girls played together on the same team,” Morey said. “On occasion, we traveled to nearby rural schools for competition in the spring.”
As a high school student, Morey and another girl played sports with the boys at noon. They also had the Girls Athletic Association (GAA), an intramural program that included touch football, basketball and softball.
“We thought we were pretty good and wanted to play against other schools, so I went to the high school principal to ask why we couldn’t,” she said. “He told me the WIAA did not permit it, which was true at that time. I never did understand why the boys could (play sports) and girls could not do anything but cheerleading and remembered that comment.”
Intramural sports remained the only official outlet in college for Morey. Her role as advisor for the GAA early in her teaching career again highlighted the lack of equality in high school athletics.
“The WIAA allowed first what they called Play Days, where you could bring girls from your school to another school and then they divided everyone into teams so there was no school identity,” she said. “Then, the WIAA allowed Sports Day, where you could bring a team to compete in a modified contest and retain your school identity. To practice for the event or host an event, the gym was only available after school or on nights or times the boys were not using the gym, like deer hunting weekend or vacation time.”
Morey discovered she wasn’t the only one who thought things should be changed. After attending various conferences, she met more and more women who wanted the same opportunities in sports.
It was finally with the passage of Title IX in June 1972 that Morey could make a move.
“I discussed more opportunities in sport with my administrators and principal at the time and received no satisfaction from them,” she said. “I then sued my school district using the Title IX law. I consider that event the push to opening the possibility of equal use of facilities and opportunities in sports for girls, as well as equal pay.”
While it was unfortunate such a drastic measure was taken, she dropped the suit when the school and its administrators agreed to provide a better atmosphere.
“This also influenced our athletic conference at the time, which began a schedule for conference competition,” she said. “Sometimes, a shove works better than a nudge.”
It was that nudge that made way for girls like Kiara Boutwell, a senior at Iola-Scandinavia High School and dedicated athlete. Her mother, Tess Jacobson, said Boutwell takes advantage of every chance she has to play.
“She played soccer from kindergarten until sixth grade and then by sixth grade, she did track, softball, basketball and volleyball,” Jacobson said. “She would sign up for anything and everything that came home.”
Jacobson, a special education aide in the Waupaca School District, knows her daughter’s athletic involvement made a marked difference in her development.
“Sports teaches you self-discipline, self-worth and physical and mental toughness,” she said. “It’s all-encompassing. It all comes together.”
Boutwell finished her junior year with a 3.84 grade-point average. She also works three days a week and is taking college-level courses when available.
“She’s just that driven,” Jacobson said. “When she does something, she’s committed to that. No matter the class or sport, she’s followed through. Athletics taught her that.”
Jacobson said coaches and parents who started with the girls when they were young should be commended for instilling that “team” feel no matter the sport, season or road trip. It’s not unlike the environment Morey created for her female students who looked to compete years ago.
“I think her opportunities at earlier ages kept her driven longer than my tenure in sports in high school,” Jacobson said. “I didn’t get enough exposure to build that team. If I would have had that team or that motivation, it would have helped me make different choices in high school.”
Sports are an every day thing for Boutwell.
“I think it helps everyday life,” she said. “When you are on a sports team, you bond and form good friendships. It helps me keep motivated to keep my grades up. They also take up a lot of your time. You are playing every weekend, so there is little time to get in trouble.”
Boutwell also thinks her experiences with time management now will help in college later, with prioritizing and organization of her schedule. Sports have also allowed for something even greater: important bonding time with her mother.
“My mom goes to every single game and she’s always there,” Boutwell said. “You can hear her laugh in the crowd. Yesterday, she drove all the way to Wabeno all by herself. That was cool.”
Morey, decades later, has similar feelings about sports.
“I loved the competition, the challenge, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” she said. “I feel wonderful that today’s girl athletes have these great opportunities to excel and participate and feel sad when it is not taken advantage of. You are only young once.”
Now retired, teaching last in 1999 after 39 years, Morey’s impact on local female athletes will continue on far beyond those who were first able to play when she made her bold move against the school district.
“Present girl athletes should look back and realize what their grandmothers might have experienced in their youth, appreciate this wonderful opportunity now and take advantage,” she said.