On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Kristi Lansford is still fighting.
The 1983 Strathmore High graduate was recently placed on paid administrative leave by Laredo Community College in South Texas after the school's board voted to disband the college's athletic program at its March 31 meeting. Lansford came to Laredo to begin the softball program in 2014.
But she hasn't actually coached a game at the school for the past three seasons due to COVID-19 and the uncertainty of Laredo's athletic program.
The odyssey Lansford has been on over the last two years is similar to the odyssey she has been on in her life. She's an Air Force veteran who went onto an outstanding athletic career at Porterville College. As a result Lansford was inducted into the PC Athletic Hall of Fame.
She went onto a distinguished coaching career in which she was the head coach at the Division II level at San Francisco State and Metro State in Denver. She coached San Francisco State to the Division II World Series.
She was also an assistant coach at the Division I level at Cal State Bakersfield before coming to Laredo. But Lansford said she of all the positions she's had in coaching, the one at Laredo has been the most rewarding.
Because the athletes Lansford coached at Laredo reminded her of somebody. “It's me 30 years ago,” Lansford said.
“That's what I get to do,” added Lansford about mentoring student-athletes like herself. Lansford said in her exeperience she's coached players who have had a “certain confidence” because they've played against players who who gone onto to play at programs such as UCLA, Arizona and Oklahoma.
But that's not the case at Laredo. “There are not any college coaches who are coming here to recruit these kids,” Lansford said.
But Lansford has had players at Laredo who have gone onto to play at the four-year level. “Laredo College was one of the opportunities they had,” she said.
Lansford said one of the unintended consequences of Title IX was that would it's given more female athletes a chance to participate in athletics, the number of female coaches in athletics is actually declining. She said one of her goals for her program was to have her players come back to coach at the youth level to develop a successful program patterned after how Strathmore High has used youth football to develop its successful football program.
Title IX was enacted in 1972 and is a law that requires educational institutions that receive federal funds to provide the same opportunities for women as men. Title IX is most know for the opportunities it's provided for women in sports.
Lansford, who comes from a generation that lived through Title IX, said she remembers being told about the softball player Joan Joyce, who was given the chance to strike out Ted Williams. She also remembers playing football and baseball with her neighbor down the street, Steve Williams. She remembers in the early 1970s she went to sign up for Little League, but was told she couldn't play.
Lansford said there's a generation of female athletes now who haven't had to live through Title IX, but actually are still having to live through Title IX in cases like the one that happened at Laredo.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Laredo's baseball coach decided to step down. The school then replaced the baseball coach with a part-time coach.
Lansford said other coaches at the school said they knew that decision indicated “that's the beginning of what was going to happen.”
In May of 2020, Laredo suspended athletics due to COVID and continued to suspend athletics through 2020-2021 due to COVID. At the time there were three coaches and four sports at the school, Lansford and softball, men's soccer and men's and women's tennis coached by the same coach who had been at the school for 24 years and had won seven national titles.
The school formed an athletics ad-hoc committee to begin the process of how to possibly bring back athletics in 2021-2022.
Last spring the board made a decision on a path to bring back athletics, but then rescinded that decision, questioning if that decision violated the legality of Title IX. It was also decided to place athletics in the health and safety department but eventually it was decided to suspend athletics for 2021-2022 as well.
Lansford filed a grievance with the school on behalf of the athletes last June. She said the coaches also wanted to know their fate definitely by September 1, 2021, so they could begin recruiting, stating the school, “we actually have to start all over again,” Lansford said.
By October the coaches still hadn't received an answered, which concerned them, “particularly me,” Lansford said.
The board gave the administration direction to explore the sustainability of athletics or to disband the program. Lansford said one board member stood up for the athletics program, recommending the program be reinstated just all sports fully funding, including baseball and women's volleyball along with softball, men's soccer and men's and women's tennis
There was also a recommendation to disband athletics. Both of the recommendations failed. The board was then given three options: to disband athletics, bring back all six sports or bring back men's soccer, softball and men's and women's tennis with stipulations such as no scholarships would be awarded and all the athletes had to be local.
Lansford said one board member said about that last option: “there's no reason to bring them back,” commenting on athletics. “Exactly,” the administration replied, Lansford added.
And since the other two options had already failed, none of the options were going to pass, Lansford said. She said the most realistic option — to continue with softball, men's soccer and men's and women's tennis just as before — was never presented.
Lansford said the board in December in a 5-2 vote directed the college to bring back athletics in some form, but left how that would be done to the administration. The administration again proposed the option of bringing back softball, men's and women's tennis and men's soccer with stipulations.
But Lansford said the administration knew the board would reject that proposal, which it did. Then on March 31 it disbanded athletics and voted to replace athletics with an esports program.
Lansford said the coaches were locked out of their email before the board meeting. “We couldn't access anything before the board met,” she said.
She said she had never known who any board member was where ever she worked until she came to Laredo. Lansford said the process wasn't transparent and several Texas open meeting laws were violated.
She added the school would never place anything on its website until she complained but now does place information on its website.
Lansford said even with the dispute the school knew if athletics were restored, “they would have had to rehire me.”
But now “I don't know if I will ever coach again,” Lansford said. She added about female coaches in her situation, “they rarely get rehired as a coach.”
But Lansford said the issue isn't about her and she filed another grievance on behalf of the athleteson Monday, asking for an appeal in front of the board. “I feel like this is the most important thing I've done in my life,” she said.
And Lansford said what's happening now could have been avoided if the school had just done what's right. “All they had to do was fix it and it would have been over,” she said. “They just made it worse.”