George Guido: Deer Lakes’ Dana Petruska emerged early after passing of Title IX

Saturday, June 18, 2022 | 8:01 PM

On March 26, 1985, the Deer Lakes girls basketball team played Bishop Guilfoyle in the PIAA Class 3A semifinal at IUP’s Memorial Fieldhouse.

Deer Lakes prevailed 55-50 in triple overtime in one of the best games of the decade.

But the significance of that contest was not only the excitement but also the fact that it was the only game at the site that night. No girls game as a doubleheader opener and a prelude to a boys game.

One game on one floor. It was something unheard of just a few years earlier before Title IX came into existence.

In fact, before Title IX, there were virtually no girls sports on the high school or collegiate levels. Several school districts had club and intramural sports, and private organizations sponsored some female competitions such as swimming, but that was about it.

That all changed June 23, 1972, when Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

Officially called the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, the measure opened the door for womens’ interscholastic sports — and, subsequently, coaching and sports administration. Mink was a Congresswoman from Hawaii at the time.

It’s wording is rather simple: “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 of activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

As the 50th anniversary of the act is being observed, one person who took advantage of the opportunity early on was Dana Petruska, then a student-athlete at Deer Lakes. She went on to play basketball at Pitt, and, as a coach, won her 500th game Feb. 8, a 57-47 victory by Mars at Plum.

While at Pitt, Petruska began a long association with Carol Sprague, who coached several sports and has done a variety of tasks and initiatives for basketball and other women’s sports.

“When I won my 500th game, Carol called to congratulate me,” Petruska said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it weren’t for her coming into my life when I was 16 or 17. I would have never accomplished what I have and wouldn’t have gone to college if she wasn’t such a positive influence in my life.”

Just missing the Title IX era was Dianne Haney, who graduated from Kiski Area about three weeks before the law was approved.

“I was glad they finally got it put in,” Haney said. “We were then able to give girls opportunities during their high school time.”

She played softball for Washington Township Little League, performed sprints and high jumps in AAU and played club basketball at Kiski Area before coming back to the school as an educator who entered coaching.

Haney was the softball coach for 22 years, leading the Cavaliers to 248 victories, 12 section titles, 15 WPIAL playoff appearances and four undefeated seasons.

“It was early on that (athletic director) Dick Dilts believed in me. I rarely saw a female coach up to that time.”

Even with all the success at Kiski Area, Haney considered some of her best fun was coaching in Bell-Avon Little League, where the small organization won a rare District 26 title.

What was next on the horizon in the Title IX legacy? Administration.

During the mid-1990s, there were three female athletic directors in the WPIAL. There are now 12. That number will advance by two in the coming weeks when Sally Ackerman takes over at St. Joseph and Kim Johnson at Valley.

“I truly believe with a female AD, they’re not going to try to make up for lost time but make things even across the board such as basketball practice times and game scheduling,” Petruska said.

Petruska’s Planets team won the PIAA title in 2018, and her teams have earned 24 WPIAL playoff berths.

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