PIEDMONT — Visitors entering the town on northbound State Highway 4 are greeted by a brick sign, boasting Piedmont's “Winds of progress.”
In early 2010, five parents didn't think they were making any progress convincing their school district to create a high school girls' soccer program.
Their frustration led them to court, suing Piedmont schools for noncompliance with Title IX, a section of the federal code that prohibits gender discrimination by schools receiving federal money.
Just a little over two years later, nearing the 40-year anniversary of Title IX's enactment, all parties are thrilled to have a Piedmont soccer program, proud of the success it's already experienced and excited about its future.
In its second year — and first in OSSAA competition — Piedmont's girls are 10-3 and open the playoffs Friday night at home against Santa Fe South.
The boys' team, which was established at the same time as the girls, narrowly missed a playoff berth.
But no one involved is necessarily thrilled with how high school soccer in Piedmont came to exist.
“It was unfortunate (the school district) took the approach they did,” said Bill Nixon, whose daughter Brenna is a junior for the Wildcats.
“I don't think it was necessary,” said Piedmont superintendent James White, who wasn't with the district at the time of the suit.
Piedmont offered soccer in the late 1990s, but interest was so low that several games were forfeited due to lack of players, White said.
But Bill Nixon said parents have approached school administrators and the school board for years asking for the creation of a soccer program to no avail.
When Brenna Nixon was a freshman, her dad said he went before the school board to ask again.
“The message we got was, ‘Give us another year,'” Bill Nixon said.
But he didn't want to wait another year. Bill Nixon is a lawyer, so he began researching his options and came across Sam Schiller, an attorney based in Tennessee who has been involved in dozens of successful Title IX lawsuits around the country — and over 20 in Oklahoma.
INTEREST IN SOCCER
In 1979, the federal government provided Title IX interpretation, articulating three ways a recipient of federal funds could be in compliance with the law.
* Providing athletic opportunities proportionate to student enrollment.
* Demonstrating a history of continued expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented gender.
* Accomodating the interest of the underrepresented gender.
Schiller and Nixon said the district's athletic opportunites were not proportionate to enrollment, and the district couldn't show a history of adding female sports.
“That would be OK if we didn't have girls who were expressing interest in forming a particular team,” Schiller said. “There was a great deal of interest in soccer. So under the law, they're required to satisfy it.”
The school district, in its response to the complaint, denied that a strong interest in soccer existed.
The city of Piedmont has grown significantly over the past decade, and with it, interest in different sports has increased. White said the district was looking to add new sports in 2010, but needed more time to explore the interest in soccer.
As evidence, White points to the fact that Piedmont is adding volleyball next year.
“You can't just start something based on people thinking there will be interest,” White said. “You have do some checking to make sure before you make that type of investment.”
Piedmont athletic director Tom Ewing, who was in his position during the suit, declined to comment for this story.
Nearly five months after the suit was filed, in July 2010, the two sides came to a settlement.
While not admitting any violation of Title IX, the Piedmont school district agreed to initiate a girls' soccer program for the next school year and pay the parents' legal fees, which came to a staggering $34,950.
‘EXACTLY WHAT WE WANTED'
Piedmont's boys and girls soccer teams spent their first season struggling.
There was one coach in charge of both squads and the school was still a year away from being in an OSSAA district. The Wildcats played about six scrimmages against other schools and didn't win hardly any of them.
“You could just feel everyone looking at us as a joke and not really taking it seriously,” said Taylor Ford, now a senior on the girls team.
Between school years, though, Piedmont administrators made a commitment to bring in good coaches for both teams. Zac Selph was hired as the boys' coach, and Jamie Hutchison as the girls'.
“To Piedmont schools' credit, I think their selection for the coaches was outstanding,” Nixon said. “The school system really got behind it between the seasons.”
The girls' team started the 2012 season by winning five of its first six games.
“I think we surprised a lot of teams early on, whether we actually won the game or not,” Hutchison said. “We're now starting to be recognized as teams that can play, boys and girls.”
The boys team finished its first OSSAA season with a 5-7 record, just missing a playoff berth, and the girls cliched their postseason slot with one regular-season game to spare.
“We didn't really know how the season would go from the start,” Ford said. “The first couple games out, we were beating teams. It was kinda surprising to see how far we've come in one year.”
The winds of progress have swept the Piedmont soccer program from nonexistence to competitiveness in two years.
“I think that settlement agreement turned out to be exactly what we wanted, and exactly what the girls were entitled to,” Nixon said.
White said, “At the end of the day, the soccer program did start and I think we'll all agree that it's been very successful.”