Students Take Action: Toni St. Pierre '77 and Women's Athletics

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Antoinette (Toni) St. Pierre (CSB ’77), attended Eisenhower High School in Hopkins, Minnesota. Toni loved to run and wanted to join the cross-country team, her junior year. Unfortunately, her high school did not have a girl’s cross-country team. This led to St. Pierre suing to be able to compete on the boys’ team. Her case was combined with Peg Brenden, a senior at St. Cloud Technical High School, who wanted to play tennis. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took up the case against the Minnesota State High School Athletic League (MSHSAL). In the spring of 1972, US District Court Judge Miles Lord ruled in favor of the girls and Toni was able to compete. This was a monumental ruling, as the decision came a few months ahead of Title IX legislation. Now girls were allowed to compete on any boys’ athletic team in Minnesota high schools. Soon after St. Pierre's court case was decided, Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which states: “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 or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Though Title IX applies to many areas of campus life—admissions, scholarships, financial aid, equal employment opportunities for students and professors, and student rules—it is particularly known for its impace on gender equity in sports and athletic programs. 

Toni St. Pierre joined the Hopkins boys’ cross-country, track, and Nordic ski teams following the ruling. She became a state champion during her senior year in the mile and the half-mile. Her half-mile time of 2:18.3 set a national record.  In 1973, she entered the College of Saint Benedict.  She did not stop running and continued competing on the St. John’s cross-country team (she was listed as an independent) since St. Ben’s did not have a team. During her freshman year, she trained to be on the US National Cross Country Ski team and became an alternate for the team. Additionally, during her freshman year, Toni, and her future husband Timothy (Tim) Heisel (SJU ‘76), both made advanced in competitions for the United States Ski Association national championships in cross-country skiing.  St. Pierre graduated from St. Ben's in 1977 with a degree in Nursing.  

On February 6, 2013, she was honored with a Special Merit Award at Minnesota's National Girls and Women in Sports Day ceremony.  Her family accepted the award on her behalf, as she had passed away four days prior from cancer. 

Toni St. Pierre achieved much in her lifetime, including winning the state Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) half-mile in junior high. She never stopped running and competed in many local and national marathons and triathlons. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press put it best, she was “the girl with a runner’s heart.”  

Read more:

Sheri Brenden, "Gaining Sweat Equity: Girls Push for Place on High School Teams,"  Minnesota History Magazine, Spring 2020, p. 6-16.  

Sarah Barker, "Toni St. Pierre Just Wanted to Run,"  Podium Runner [Outside Online], April 16, 2021.  

Students Take Action: Toni St. Pierre '77 and Women's Athletics