In the midst of a renewed national debate over Title IX, professional volleyball player and 1988 United States Olympian Liz Masakayan is kicking off National Girls & Women in Sports Week at UCSB with a lecture on her life’s accomplishments and struggles in sports.

Last week, a presidential panel considered easing a key requirement of the landmark gender equality act so that colleges would no longer have to cut men’s sports programs to maintain parity with women’s athletics. Under criticism from women’s sports advocates, the panel backed off from that position and settled for saying that enforcement of Title IX should be flexible.

Currently, schools are required to provide sports programs in proportion to the enrollment of men and women. To comply with Title IX, many schools, unable to find women athletes or afford many more sports teams, cut low-profile men’s sports such as wrestling, swimming and gymnastics.

Masakayan is the keynote speaker at the Fifth Annual Distinguished Women in Sports Lecture, presented by the UCSB Women’s Center tonight at 7 in Corwin Pavilion. Her speech, entitled “Pass, Set, Hit, Score: Moving from All-Star to All-Pro” is based on the lecture’s theme, “Succeed in Sports, Lead in Life.”

UCSB women’s volleyball Head Coach Kathy Gregory, who played beach volleyball against Masakayan earlier in her career, said Masakayan “has interesting stories to tell about following your dreams, being passionate about a sport, overcoming a lot of physical injuries and being competitive.”

Event coordinator Judith Guillermo-Newton, who works in the Women’s Center, said Masakayan will talk about the challenges that students face playing sports in college.

“She gives young women role models, [which helps them] to see what they can do and what they can be,” Guillermo-Newton said.

Masakayan will take questions after the 45-minute lecture, which is free and open to the public.

“She’s the kind of person that when you talk to her on the phone, it seems like you’re talking to a friend,” Guillermo-Newton said. “She’s very interested in inspiring young women.”

A reception will be held in Corwin Pavilion prior to the event from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. and will include hors d’oeuvres, drinks and the opportunity to meet Masakayan. Admission is $25 and reservations are required. The reception will fund the Sixth Annual Distinguished Women in Sports Lecture next year.

The UCSB women’s volleyball team will be meeting with Masakayan earlier in the day to share her experiences in sports.

“This lecture is celebrating women and Title IX. I told my team that this is a great competitor, and she can share something with them about her life,” Gregory said.

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 is the landmark legislation that bans sex discrimination in schools, whether it be in academics or athletics. The legislation governs the overall equity of treatment and opportunity in athletics, including equal financial support of men’s and women’s teams. Since the arrival of Title IX, women’s participation in sports has increased exponentially in both high school and college varsity athletics.

“It’s a time to really celebrate being strong women, being athletic,” Guillermo-Newton said.

Masakayan began her volleyball career while attending UCLA, where she led her collegiate team to a national championship in 1984 and won the tournament’s MVP award. She was a two-time All-American, UCLA’s 1985-86 Female Athlete of the Year and a 1996 inductee into the UCLA Hall of Fame.

Masakayan was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team that competed in Seoul, South Korea. She successfully became one of the world’s best beach volleyball players and was named the Women’s Professional Volleyball Association’s MVP in 1993 and co-MVP in 2003.

Masakayan was also named the champion of the Santa Barbara Associated Volleyball Tournament held at East Beach in 2001.

For information about reservations for the reception prior to Masakayan’s lecture, contact the UCSB Women’s Center at (805) 893-3778.