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‘I said I want to play’ | Vol history-maker Joan Cronan on the 50th anniversary of Title IX

Fifty years ago, Joan Cronan used her anger to help take Tennessee athletics to unbelievable heights, becoming one of the first women to take on a leadership role, not just on campus but nationally through NCAA committees.
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 11:01 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Thursday was the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a civil rights act protecting people from sex-based discrimination in education and other programs that received federal assistance.

One of the women who was at the forefront of Title IX is Joan Cronan, who described herself as a trailblazer pushing for this law back in 1972.

Cronan said her interest in Title IX started well before 50 years ago.

“My interest in Title IX started long before 50 years ago. It started when I was 12-years-old and they wouldn’t let me play little league baseball, and it made me mad. And I said I want to play,” shared Cronan.

She said sports at that time were male-dominated, but she’s proud of the changes that came to be with Title IX and finds them rewarding.

“You know 50 years ago today, I was literally nine and a half months pregnant. I was a slow learner I think. But my daughter was born on July 3, which was right after Title IX and at that time I had a 17-month-old daughter. So to watch my daughters grow up with opportunities. Both of them are really good tennis players and continue to play tennis. To watch my granddaughters who are very good athletes who also play tennis have those opportunities to be the best they can be,” said Cronan.

Fifty years ago, Cronan used her anger to help take Tennessee athletics to unbelievable heights, becoming one of the first women to take on a leadership role, not just on campus but nationally through NCAA committees.

Taking over as women’s athletics director at Tennessee in 1983, she gradually expanded the program from 7 to 11 sports and helped the department increase annual giving from $75,000 to more than $2 million per year.

Although she fought hard for the fair recognition of women’s sports, she didn’t take all the credit.

“My career was awesome and one of the reasons why my career was awesome is because the University of Tennessee said yes to women’s athletics before it was cool and was so supportive and I was able to surround myself with great people. I get asked a lot ‘Joan did you hire Pat Summit?’ I didn’t, she was here when I got here, but I kept her. We worked together for almost 30 years. That was really special because she was such a leader, such an icon for women’s athletics. It was more than just women’s basketball. It was all sports. It was all about life. So I did have the privilege of working with Pat Summit for almost 30 years and I cannot celebrate Title IX without celebrating what Pat Summit did not only for women, not only for the University of Tennessee, but for all people,” shared Cronan.

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