2016 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award - Equality in Sports
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” -Title IX of the Educational Amendments
In 1972 these words ushered in a new era for girls and women. In middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the nation competitive sports and academic scholarships would now be available to all. Chris Voelz has dedicated her life and career to ensuring compliance to this hard won legislation. She joined a class action lawsuit in 1977, co-authored the NCAA Guidelines for Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics in 1992, rose to leadership positions at the university level, and was named one of the most influential people in sports in the nation by Sports Fitness Magazine.
Chris Voelz’ drive for social justice showed up early. As a kindergartener in Louisiana in the 1950s, she wondered aloud why the little African American boys she played kickball and baseball with in her neighborhood were not enrolled in the school along with her. She asked her father if the water fountains in town marked “Colored” really pumped colorful water. Her dad told her to drink from whichever fountain she liked. Voelz’ parents fostered an active and equal sport experience for all four of their children, and so were not surprised when Chris found a creative way to gain entrance to the town’s all male Little League teams. She cut her hair short, put on a baseball cap and pretended to be her brother’s twin.
Prior to Title IX, the public school systems in the United States, including West Chicago Community High School, offered no competitive sports for girls. Instead, girls honed their skills in the Girls’ Athletic Association or GAA. In 1964 the USA Olympic Volleyball Team visited West Chicago Community High School while on a national promotional tour. Team members ran a girls’ volleyball clinic and quickly spotted Voelz’ talent. Chris was tapped to compete with select suburban GAA athletes every weekend at Navy Pier—in secret. If this, Chris’s first exposure to higher level sport competition, were discovered by the Illinois High School Sports Association (IHSSA), Chris would be banned from GAA. Competition for girls was not permitted.
While at West Chicago Community High School, Chris was GAA President, Vice President of National Honor Society, and class Treasurer. She participated in Pep Club, Future Teachers Club, Mental Health Club, and German Club. She worked in the school cafeteria and earned her place on the Honor Roll all four years. In her senior year Chris was named DAR Good Citizen and was voted “Most Athletic”.
At Illinois State University she received a BA in physical education and played golf, softball, volleyball and basketball. Finally she could compete in public! It was at ISU that her academic advisor and coach, Dr. Laurie Mabry, one of the original Title IX advocates, sparked Chris’s zeal to create a future for girls and women in sport. With Dr. Mabry as her mentor, Chris was determined to forge a path where none existed, to take the hard road and make a difference for women and girls.
In the 1970s during her tenure as teacher and coach at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois, Voelz was selected to represent the nation’s high school coaches on the first ever AIAW Scholarship Committee, the precursor to the NCAA. She soon co-founded the Illinois Girls’ Coaches Association, a forum from which women’s coaches could advocate before Congress for gender equality in sports participation, as well as for equal pay, practice times, and equipment.
In 1974, Chris earned a master’s degree in secondary education and sports psychology from Northern Illinois University. Her thesis, titled “Motivation in Coaching Team Sports” was published, elevating her to a national platform of speaking engagements and advocacy for equality in athletics. While touring colleges and universities across the country, Chris accepted an offer from the University of Oregon to become Assistant Athletic Director and Head Volleyball Coach, where as President of the American Volleyball Coaches Association she won entry for all women’s teams into the Pacific Athletic 10 Conference, PAC10.
Next, Chris headed to the University of Minnesota as one of five female Athletic Directors in collegiate sports. From 1988 to 2002 Chris Voelz grew the number of women’s sports offerings to twelve, managed a $10.9 million dollar women’s athletic budget and a staff of more than 80 employees. She quadrupled fundraising efforts resulting in the construction of 9 new athletic facilities and 45 endowed scholarships. Under Chris’s leadership, grade point averages and graduation rates of female athletes reached record levels, and she made sure the fans knew it. The University of Minnesota scoreboard marked not only the game scores, but the collective GPA of all women athletes as well. As Chris likes to say, she kept score of the right things!
In 1992, as president of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA), Voelz co-authored the definition that became the official NCAA Guideline for Gender Equity:
“An athletic program can be considered gender equitable when the participants in both the men’s and women’s sports programs would accept as fair and equitable the overall program of the other gender. No individual should be discriminated against on the basis of gender, institutionally or nationally, in intercollegiate athletics.”
In 2002, Voelz joined the Billie Jean King Women’s Sports Foundation as Leadership Gift Officer to ensure that the promises of Title IX are realized, and that the needed advocacy on behalf of female athletes at the national and international level continues. Voelz traveled to our nation’s capital many times during the 2000s to testify before Congress and the Knight Commission on behalf of women athletes and their coaches.
In 2011, Voelz received the NACWAA Lifetime Achievement Award for meritorious service and career dedication to advancing women in sport. She was inducted into the Illinois State University and University of Minnesota Halls of Fame. In 2013 Chris was named Executive Director of The Collegiate Women Sports Awards, which since 1976 has honored the nation’s top NCAA women athletes, recognizing not only their superior athletic skill, but also leadership, academic excellence and eagerness to participate in community service. This award, sponsored by Honda since 1986 and known as the Honda Cup, is considered the Heisman Trophy for women.
As CEO of her own consulting firm, A+Athletics Plus, and as ambassador and steward for King’s Women’s Sports Foundation, Chris Voelz continues her travels around the globe advocating for women.
“Title IX requires our constant vigilance. Equal access for all is a right guaranteed by our Constitution, a right we must continually safeguard and protect.” - Chris Voelz
Community High School District 94 and the CHS Educational Foundation are proud to honor Chris Voelz, class of 1966, with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for Equality in Sports.