By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 23, 2017 at 6:05 PM

Since the time she was a little girl, Melissa Baldauff dreamed of being a quarterback on a football team. Her parents, however, were concerned for her safety because it’s a high-contact sport dominated by boys, and instead enrolled her in dance lessons.

"I loved dance – ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop – but I also loved football and still wanted to be a quarterback," says Baldauff, who grew up in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Finally, during her sophomore year of high school, Baldauff convinced her parents to sign the permission slip allowing her to play junior varsity football. She was the only girl on the team, and at first, her all-male teammates were skeptical.

"Most of the guys on the team were not very supportive at first. They really didn’t want me to be out there," says Baldauff. "I felt safe but not wanted."

However, Baldauff says she never missed a practice or workout and her dedication and hard word eventually earned her teammates’ support and respect. They even asked her to come into the boys’ locker room after everyone was changed into their uniforms so she could walk out with the rest of the team.

"Eventually, my teammates became my biggest cheerleaders," she says.

Baldauff played football for one season. In her school district, seniors could not participate on junior varsity teams and her parents were not comfortable with her playing varsity football. Instead, she became the team’s statistician, also a role usually filled by a male, and earned a letter in football anyway.

Baldauff says her experience on the football team impacted her greatly, both personally and, later, professionally.

"It was a big boost of confidence for me. I learned that I could do anything – even things that others didn’t think I could do. I was passionate but also a little bit scared, and that’s a good place to be," says Baldauff. "Confidence, hard work and not being afraid to try anything has carried out in my career, too."

Baldauff studied math and criminal justice in college and today, she serves as the communications director for County Executive Chris Abele.

"This job is really different for me and in a wonderful way. I work mostly with women because Chris hires a lot of women into positions of authority. He believes a lot in women’s voices – not only at the table but the decision makers at the table. It’s a fulfilling reversal," she says. "And I’d like to add that even though I’m a little disappointed that the Packers didn’t reach out to me when Aaron Rogers got hurt, I’m supportive of Brett Hundley."

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee will recognize Bauldauff – and 11 other women – as "Milwaukee Title IX Athletes" for their commitment to sports, business and community.

Title IX became a law in June 1972 – 45 years ago – and mandated inclusive educational opportunities for everyone. Since then, Title IX has helped women and girls to compete in sports and also acts as a deterrent from drugs, teen pregnancy and obesity. Title IX also provides protection from and support following sexual assault on campuses as well as access to STEM education and scholarships.

"Title IX has been essential in providing opportunities to people that changed their lives, from organized sports during their K-12 education to entrance into higher educational institutions and athlete scholarships and even gaining access to curriculum that paved the way to rewarding careers in math and science," says Lisa Attonito, the executive director for the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee.

"Some say, this piece of legislation has been the most important law to help advance equity for women."

Recipients include Baldauff, Nicki Barnes, Bet-z Boenning, Janine Emmer, Jaclyn Gruber, Gabrielle Hood, Bernell Hooker, Rebecca Hulce, Natalie Maciolek, Kathryn Markgraf, Katie Muldoon and Kelsey Peterson.

Katie Muldoon, a partner at Quarles & Brady who was a rower at Notre Dame during college, has a similar sentiment.

"This sounds cliched, but while I was rowing as a Title IX athlete I learned that just because I was having a bad day or didn’t feel like rowing, my team needed me," says Muldoon. "And I needed and still today need my team."

The event takes place at the Harley-Davidson Museum in The Garage. OnMilwaukee is among the sponsors. Donna Orender, CEO of Orender Unlimited, will serve as the keynote speaker at the event.

"The biggest thing I am grateful for is that the opportunity was there for me. I have had to work hard and earn my spot on each and every one of the athletic teams I played on, but I was never denied the chance to try," says Nicki Barnes, a business analyst for Baird.

"Each and every one of the opportunities I’ve had has helped me prepare to begin my career after college, and I am certain that I wouldn’t be where I am without them."

Bet-z Boenning, the owner of Walker’s Pint, the longest-running women’s bar in Walker’s Point – makes tremendous contributions through her business and volunteer work to the community. She credits Title IX and her involvement in sports with much of her success as a professional in the service industry.

"Being a player, captain, and coach has taught me many life-long skills," says Boenning. "It’s helped me learn how to contribute in a group setting and compromise and work hard, work with people of different backgrounds, different attitudes and personalities which in turn helped me learn to adapt to new ways of thinking," she says.

"Thanks to Title IX, I’ve also learned how to organize, plan, teach and help others get to the next level and more self confidence and self esteem through athletic success."

To reserve a seat for The Title IX 45th Anniversary Party, go here.

Check out this Facebook Live with OnMilwaukee, Women's Fund Executive Director Lisa Attonito and Title IX Athlete Janine Emmer.

Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.

As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.

She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that. 

Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.

Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.

In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!

When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.