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Contributed photo / Emmi Sellman, leaping at the net, is a volleyball star at Maryland's Academy of the Holy Cross and the daughter of former Notre Dame High School and UTC baseball player John Sellman.

Come June 23, this country will quite rightly celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that has done so much to level the playing field for women when it comes to both opportunity and fairness in everything from sports to education to employment.

But as important and necessary as it has been on so many fronts, one could also understand if former Notre Dame High School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga baseball pitcher John Sellman might be less than thrilled to honor the occasion.

That's because, particularly in its early years, Title IX also forced more than a few universities to drop certain men's sports due to those schools' inability to properly fund them while also complying with the legislation's requirements, including sports participation, though that was never an original goal of Title IX.

And thanks to UTC's limited athletic department budget (some things never change), the school elected to drop its baseball program in the early 1980s in order to better comply with Title IX. Suddenly, shockingly, Sellman and his teammates were no longer able to play the sport they'd loved their whole lives.

"I was somewhat oblivious to Title IX in the beginning," he said Saturday. "But it definitely hurt when the school dropped baseball. I was mad as (heck). It was a kick to the gut."

Yet in the decades since, Sellman and his wife Suzanne have welcomed three children into the world, the youngest of whom —16-year-old Emmi — is on track to possibly make the U.S. women's indoor volleyball team for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

So does Sellman — given the impact Title IX has no doubt had on the opportunities afforded Emmi — still harbor ill feelings toward the legislation?

"No way," he said emphatically, explaining that when it comes to his baseball experience and her volleyball opportunities, he would "make that trade every day of the week."

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Contributed photo / Emmi Sellman has a busy few weeks ahead in her volleyball career, with college recruiting about to accelerate and a tryout scheduled for the under-19 team that will represent the United States at the Pan-American Volleyball Cup.

Understand that Sellman wasn't just one of those guys happy to make a roster, although he may joke about his skills.

"They used to tell me I couldn't hit water if I fell out of a boat," he said.

And on his speed: "They timed me going from home to first with a sundial."

But after the UTC program was dropped and he spent the summer working with the Chattanooga Lookouts grounds crew at Engel Stadium, a coach watching the 6-foot-7 lefty throw batting practice one day said: "I can get you a Class A contract."

Unfortunately for the minor leagues, Sellman had become fascinated with videography by then and declined. Good decision, too. He met Suzanne while on a video job in Hawaii. The family now lives in Burtonsville, Maryland, where he produces videos for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

And at least some of his athletic genes have served Emmi quite well. A rising junior at Academy of the Holy Cross, she's one of 20 girls nationally who have been chosen for a July 6 tryout in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they'll compete for 12 spots on the under-19 squad that will represent the United States in the Pan-American Volleyball Cup.

"Just hearing the words 'United States team' gives me chills," said the 6-foot-4 Sellman, who's a right-handed outside hitter, though she can skillfully play all six spots on the court. "This is a huge opportunity. I'm really excited."

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Contributed photo / Emmi Sellman, 16, could represent the United States as a member of the national women's indoor volleyball team at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

No matter what happens in Tulsa, Emmi Sellman is going to have lots of opportunities to compete on both the national and international volleyball stage moving forward.

"College coaches can call rising juniors beginning at 12:01 a.m. on June 15 (Wednesday)," her father said. "We've been told we may be up all night fielding those calls. She's a good kid, well grounded, but she'll kick your (behind) on the court. There's probably more than 100 schools recruiting her — Stanford, Florida, Illinois, Ohio State, Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, all of them. She just wants to go somewhere she can win a national championship."

Before her grandparents Bernard and Katy Sellman passed away, she'd go to Chattanooga to visit whenever possible.

"I love Chattanooga," Emmi said. "We'd go to Coolidge Park and play in the water, we've been to Rock City. Chattanooga's a great place."

Bernard Sellman made Chattanooga a great place to live through his 46 years with the Little Theatre and all his years emceeing the local Jerry Lewis telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"When I was growing up, whenever we went out to eat, someone was always coming over to talk to my dad," John said. "It was like everybody in town knew him and liked him."

In a few years, if Emmi stays on her current path to volleyball stardom, a lot of folks may begin to know her and interrupt her dinners as much as they do entertainment superstar Taylor Swift, her favorite musician.

And should that happen, should she become a rich and famous athlete, Title IX will almost certainly have played a role.

"It's huge," Emmi said of the legislation that was passed 34 years before she was born. "Not just for college opportunities, but high school, too. It will help me build my career."

To think where bright, gifted, well-grounded young women might be without the protections of Title IX should be the real kick to this nation's collective gut, and what must never be allowed to recede in the 50 years to come.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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