Brenden scored an early victory for gender equity.

Peg Brenden never wanted to write a book about her experiences as a high school tennis player who fought for gender equity on the court and in the arena of women’s athletics. “It was exhausting enough to live through it,” she said. Her sister, Sheri Brenden, felt compelled to write the story, however. Her new book, Break Point: Two Minnesota Athletes and the Road to Title IX, tells of the landmark court case that opened the door to female athletes across the U.S.

“I was delighted and, frankly, honored that my sister would take on a project about women’s sports equity,” said Brenden, a resident of the Summit-University neighborhood of Saint Paul. “She uses my story and Toni St. Pierre’s story as an anchor to that larger story about the evolution of girls’ sports.”

brenden on court
Peg Brenden competes as a senior on the tennis court at Saint Cloud Tech, as featured on the cover of that high school's student newspaper.

Girls lacked the opportunity to compete

The book opens in 1971-72 when Brenden was a senior at Saint Cloud Tech High School. She played tennis. St. Pierre was a junior at Hopkins Eisenhower High School, and she ran and skied cross-country. Both girls were struggling with a lack of opportunity to compete in those sports at their respective schools.

“The story is about more than sports,” writes Sheri Brenden in the book’s prologue. “It is about a historic court decision on gender equity that launched a movement among girls and women and put educational institutions on notice: They could no longer stall or ignore gender equity in athletics.”

“The case unlocked the gates to an arena that had been constructed with only one gender in mind. Girls everywhere who had once stood on the sidelines started to see themselves racing to a finish line, scoring a crucial point, or claiming a victory.”

In the lawsuit against their high schools and the Minnesota State High School League, Brenden and St. Pierre argued that schools with only boys’ sports teams were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The suit was heard by the U.S. District Court for Minnesota and was upheld by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court’s decision resulted in a ruling that the federal civil rights law Title IX, which established equal access to educational opportunities for women, should be interpreted to include athletics.

“The case unlocked the gates to an arena that had been constructed with only one gender in mind,” Sheri Brenden writes. “Girls everywhere who had once stood on the sidelines started to see themselves racing to a finish line, scoring a crucial point, or claiming a victory.”

Beginning of a long road for women athletes

The lawsuit was only the beginning of a long road for women athletes, according to Peg and Sheri. As suggested in the book’s title, Sheri said, “Peg and Toni won a break point that enabled them to alter the pattern of sports teams just for boys,” and they became role models for young women athletes across the country.

That spring, Peg Brenden became the first girl in Minnesota to compete on a boys’ high school tennis team. The following school year, St. Pierre competed with the boys in Nordic skiing and track and field as a senior at Eisenhower. St. Pierre went on to the College of Saint Benedict. Saint Ben’s did not have a varsity program for women, so St. Pierre competed on the men’s cross-country team at nearby Saint John’s University.

Both women continued to compete in athletics. St. Pierre was training to run in the Boston Marathon when she died of cancer in 2013. Brenden served as the pro at the Saint Paul Tennis Club, was an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota’s women’s tennis team, and served on the board of Saint Paul Urban Tennis, a nonprofit youth development organization. A longtime resident of Highland Park, she practiced law as an attorney and as a Minnesota State Workers’ Compensation Court judge.

Sheri Brenden, who is six years younger than Peg, worked as a reporter for the Saint Cloud Daily Times before pursuing a career as a research librarian for Minneapolis law firms. She started working on Break Point in 2005. “But I had three high school-age kids at the time, and I just wasn’t getting anywhere,” she said. “So I put the book aside. A few years later, I went back to Peg and said, ‘I really do want to do this.’”

Peg Brenden
Years later, Peg Brenden poses with the letter she earned as a member of Saint Cloud Tech’s newly co-educational varsity tennis team.


Sheri was unrelenting in her research for the book, according to Peg. “She knows more about my experience than I do at this point,” Brenden said. “She did so much legwork visiting newspaper archives and talking to people who had a part in the story, from family members to my teammates, to coaches to Judge (Miles) Lord, the judge sitting on the case.”

Trial testimony still stings five decades later

“It’s been really interesting to revisit every­thing in a way that is not so emotional,” Peg Brenden said. “Although I have to say, I had the most visceral reaction to reading the trial testimony and the things the experts had to say in defense of the high school league and our high schools.

“They made arguments about how we couldn’t (compete) with the boys because of our physical disadvantage. We weren’t strong enough or fast enough or durable enough to play sports. They suggested that Toni and I had all kinds of opportunities, and that we were just asking for special privileges to play on our high school team. Probably the argument that they hung their hat on most was that our place on our respective high school teams would be disastrous to the growth of sports opportunities for girls.

“I keep looking at participation numbers, and they’re great for Minnesota girls in high school,” Brenden said. “But they drop off more quickly and drop out more easily than boys from their high school experience. And we don’t see women coaches in the numbers that we see men coaches. Girls could go through their whole sporting experience and never have a female coach. That doesn’t say the right thing about who can be leaders and who girls can look to for their future.”

Peg and Sheri Brenden will discuss those issues and more at a Women’s Coaching Symposium on April 21 at the University of Minnesota. For information on the symposium, which is cosponsored by the U of M’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, visit The Brenden sisters will also discuss their book in a free program at 6 p.m. Monday, May 22, at Next Chapter Booksellers, 38 S. Snelling Ave.


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— Anne Murphy


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