When Jodie Burton was growing up in 1960s Whittier, Calif., she spent her days playing sports in the street with the neighborhood boys.
“I was better than them in football,” she made sure to mention.
When it came time to try out for the local youth recreational football team, however, all the neighborhood kids made the team except for her.
“The only reason they wouldn’t let me play was because I was a female, I was a little girl,” she said. “I think that that anger kicked my passion to want to help other little girls and women never feel the way I did when I was rejected just because of my sex.”
Though the culture at the time was very unaccepting of women and girls in sports, Burton says she was fortunate to have parents who were very supportive of her.
She thinks back fondly on the time spent with her father attending Team USA track meets, professional golf tournaments and football games. It was at these events that she got to watch women like Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph and golfer Jamie Blalock, who became her role models.
Burton’s mother was also very supportive, standing up against any naysayers who thought young girls didn’t belong in sports.
“[My mom] was proud of me being a female athlete — and at that time it wasn’t something you bragged about, that your daughter was aggressive and liked sports — but she did,” Burton said.
This support kept Burton going and eventually fueled her long career as a coach.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for her hunting [out] sports opportunities for the little girl that was passionate about it,” she said.
Fast forward to 20 years later, she accepted her first coaching position at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps as head of the women’s volleyball and basketball teams. She has stayed with CMS ever since, coaching women’s basketball for 32 years before switching in 2012 to her current position as head women’s golf coach.
In her many years at CMS, Burton has seen a lot change as athletic directors and opportunities for women have altered.
When Burton first started, CMS women’s athletics was in its third year and Title IX had been passed seven years prior. Despite this, the men’s and women’s programs were not equal.
“Society had us as a second thought, and still does in some ways,” she said. “It was a long time before our budgets were equal and that was [a lot] of years of fighting for that,” Burton said.
She and her female colleagues spent years constantly battling for necessities such as food at tournaments, new uniforms and locker rooms. Their complaints were heeded when men joined their advocacy efforts.
“It helped to have a white male arguing for women’s equality,” she said.
Though the inequalities between women and men’s teams seemed endless, Burton felt that their activism brought them closer together.
“I think there was a better appreciation for what we were given, and a different kind of bond that we as females had, because we were fighting for something,” she said.
Throughout her more than forty years with CMS, Burton has seen great success with the teams that she’s coached. It’s all the more meaningful because she’s earned her place in Claremont history.
“Women are quite capable of doing the job equally or better than [men] do,” she said. “And that’s in all of the world, especially in sports.”
At the time of her retirement from coaching women’s basketball in 2012, she was the “winningest coach in SCIAC basketball history,” according to a press release from CMS. Her time as CMS women’s basketball coach was the tenth longest for any coach amongst all NCAA divisions. She was also the 15th coach in Division III history to win 500 games and won more SCIAC games than any other coach.
But after retiring from coaching basketball, Burton’s career was far from over. That same year, she was hired as the women’s golf coach in its first year as a varsity sport, leading the team to a first-place finish in SCIAC.
She doesn’t do it for the wins, though.
“As much as I like winning… for me, in athletics, it’s always been the journey,” she said.
For Burton, every year brings a new team dynamic, a new set of athletes and a new perspective.
“I found the student body and all these people to be just wonderful and [they] have enriched my life far more than I’ve ever done anything for them,” Burton said.
Above all else, she emphasizes the support she’s had along the way.
“I’m just so proud of all those people before me and after me that have continued to make it possible for girls and women to compete.”
She notes, however, that the fight for equality in women’s athletics is far from over.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “Your generation needs to still fight, [to] not be satisfied.”