Donna is a Road Scholar Participant, Class of 2014. She is pictured above on her most recent Great American Get-Together in South Dakota.

When Donna A. Kimura was first hired as a physical education teacher in the 1970s, interscholastic competition in the Los Angeles Unified School District was not well-organized, and girls’ interscholastic competition was virtually non-existent.

Before long, Donna became, as she puts it, a “squeaky wheel.” “I had questions, and I wasn’t getting answers,” she says, “and the squeaky wheels who have a lot of questions are the ones who are asked to serve on committees. It was a matter of put up or shut up.”

Donna says that one of her personal tenets in life is — if you have a lot to say or you think something’s not working, then speak up and get involved. “I learned early on that if there’s something happening that you feel needs improvement and you have a mechanism to give your input, then speak up.”

So Donna became a member of the instructional staff that developed girls’ sports in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The physical education teachers who were interested in coaching girls’ sports assembled to build an interscholastic program for the girls, using the structure of the boys’ program, dividing into teams and developing rules.

Battles On and Off the Court

Donna and her colleagues had many obstacles to overcome, including equal pay for equal work between the male and female coaches. Donna was among many women in the 1970s who filed a lawsuit against the district to demand equal pay for female teachers and coaches. And she won. But, she said, implementation of pay equity was slow and a constant battle.

Another great obstacle the women and girls faced was fair access to facilities. “The men were not willing to give up their gym time for the girls, so we were relegated to smaller gyms, if we had gyms at all,” says Donna. Many of the schools did not allow girls to use the sports facilities, and in some schools, girls were limited to extraneous gym or field time, like at 6 o'clock in the morning. The women learned to negotiate, but the battle for facilities continues, says Donna, especially in smaller school districts.

A National Movement

Because Donna was on the committee that literally wrote the rule book for girls’ sports, she was then asked to be a part of the team that put together the structure that would become the new Title IX legislation for the State of California. She helped format the initial drafts and review the drafts at each stage to refine the language to be sure that it was clear and comprehensive.

“I was honored to be a part of the initial planning stages for Title IX,” says Donna. “We helped set the stage, the document got written, the implementation went on, and the women’s hockey team won at the Olympics.” Donna says she is overjoyed to see female athletes like those on the U.S. Olympic team reap the benefits of what she and her colleagues worked for.

The Legacy Lives On

At the age of 75, Donna says that the most satisfying outcome of her career in education is to be remembered by her students. “I traveled to Hawaii, and one of my former students came up to me and said, ‘Are you Mrs. Kimura? I had you for PE in school, and you were my favorite teacher!’ And she is still playing tennis. It’s wonderful to see that my efforts in my small way made a positive impact on future athletes.”

For many of student athletes, opportunities in sports have led to educational opportunities through scholarship programs and career opportunities through professional leagues. Donna’s daughter played volleyball at the collegiate and professional level and is now a collegiate official.

“These opportunities didn’t exist many years ago, and I’m so proud of that. It gives me pride to see students who graduated from our high school programs and went onto college are now the coaches out there bringing these teams to fruition at all levels.”

On the Shoulders of Giants

Donna says the No. 1 reason she became a physical education teacher was because she was inspired by wonderful teachers. When she was in school, girls were taught by women and boys were taught by men in physical education, and programs available to her were after-school recreational programs and through parks and recreation until she got to college.

Donna was among the college athletes who made phone calls to department chair persons at colleges in the L.A. area to start a collegiate sports program. “Four schools would get together and have a round-robin tournament just so we could play other schools.” Donna says that her experience advocating for her own opportunities as a college athlete probably paved the way for her work and the work of others in her generation of female physical education teachers for the development of girls’ sports programs in high schools.

Aside from teachers she had as a student, Donna says that as an educator and an advocate, women like Patricia Harvey, the director of interscholastic sports, provided inspiration to keep pushing to make girls’ sports a reality. “Her efforts were tireless, and she was a role model for me,” says Donna. “I am also incredibly inspired by the women who continue to stand up for injustices of discrimination against women today — I commend them and thank them because they serve as role models for young girls to see that they can accomplish anything if they work at it.”

  • Thank-you Donna. I missed the fruits of your efforts but got to see both my girls enjoy the positive growth and physical benefits of team sports. I had to wear a dress with pantaloons!! when I was in gym. We had nothing but cheerleading and those few spots were hard to come by. Now my grands are having the time of their lives in girls soccer. I didn't even know this as sport when I was younger. I am 70 this month, and active. But sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been had I the wonderful opportunity girls have today. I tell them all the time how forunate they are and it's because you cared enough to do something about it... Thanks again.

  • I can appreciate excellent role models in women's sports.  In high school, in the early 70's, we had to fight for our place in school sports.  I received the first varsity letter ever received for any sport in my high school.  As the co-captain of the tennis team I learned to stand up for women's rights at an early age.  Our gym teachers supported our rights to equal time on the courts.  Our first coach was an English teacher who didn't know a lot about tennis, but did believe in our right to play so she stepped up when no one else would to ensure our right to play.  What a privilege to be at the beginning of a positive movement.

  • Donna,

    I wish to thank you for being one of the pioneers of Title IX. As a child, going through the District of Columbia Public Schools during the 1950s and 1960s , girls were not permitted to participate in intermural sports. In high school, I was a very good tennis player. There was not a girls' tennis team, and girls were not permitted to be a part of the boys' team.  We all knew what the message was.  It also kept me down as to what career to pursue.

    Again, I wish to thank you for helping make more options for girls.

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