Ciarelli graduated in 1972, just as the women's sports equality wave was hitting. Title IX just celebrated its 35th anniversary last month. But, there was only the Girls' Athletic Assn., which was the girls' intramural athletics organization.
There were no designated girls' teams. No official jerseys. No official coaches. Maybe a volunteer here or there. But that was it.
And when Billie Jean King started playing, nobody really wanted to take women's sports seriously. The equal rights advocate spoke at a press conference before a Newport Beach Breakers game last week.
"In my day, we would not have this press conference," King said. "This is a big deal. Every time I come to a press conference I know it's a privilege. Without the media, no one knows what you think, what you feel, or what you look like. I think [athletes] need to understand why it's important to talk and exchange discussion with the media. I think it's vital. Access to the media is what makes your sport popular."
King was right, hearkening back to a time when women's sports couldn't pay anyone for coverage, let alone charge for broadcasting rights.
King's credibility as a female athlete didn't hit the mainstream until she beat Bobby Riggs in the legendary 1973 Battle of the Sexes. But the tables have turned. Not completely, but significantly.
Shockingly, the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour didn't include women until 1999.
The women's title match at Long Beach July 22 drew a packed crowd that included at least one bona fide Hollywood star (Adrian Grenier). There wasn't a free piece of real estate to be had in those bleachers.
The men's match? Not so much. There was still a sizable crowd, but patches of empty bleachers could not be ignored.
But now there's a newer, stickier battle to be fought in women's sports, and it's not about how much attention it gets. It's about what kind.