Funny to think my introduction to the sport that would ultimately help define me as a person and set me on my career path came from my “brother from another mother” and my very best friend growing up.
I was the ultimate tomboy. No dresses for this girl and don’t even think about giving me anything with bows or flowers on it! I was the tough one (at least that’s what I wanted to be seen as). And as a squarely little second grader there was nothing I liked better than running out at recess to be the first on the basketball courts, beating all the boys.
My dear friend Corey, whom I still consider my second brother to this day, is the reason I started playing. He grew up in a basketball family and since we were attached at the hip since preschool, I didn’t want to miss out on my best friends’ favorite activity…so I started playing.
Every day at recess (boy, how I miss recess!) you could find me on the courts. I would be the one with a pony-tail and a pair of LA Gear’s (yes, I admit wearing LA Gear!). But, I would also be the one picked first, second (or on a random day… third) by the coveted team captain positions ( I would later EARN that role). At the time I never once put myself on a different “level” of these guys. They were my friends and we were just playing the game we liked to play.
My mom recalls I came home one day from school while in the second grade and asked if I could play basketball in the local rec league. Her response to me, “what do you know about basketball?!” She recalls my reply, “I play at recess with the boys.” And so my basketball “career”… and part of the foundation for my life… began.
I played two years in the girls rec league until some of the league parents started taking note that I was too good for the league. At the time, girls travel ball teams in our town started in 7th grade, while the boys travel teams started in 4th grade. As 4th grade approached, Corey’s dad became the coach of the 4th grade travel boys team and asked me to join their team. No doubt about it, I was in!
I had earned the respect of the boys on my team so being a girl was never an issue during practice. However, I recall my first game with the team. At the time, and at that age, it was customary to line up at half court before every game and the coaches would line us up across from the player on the other team whom we would be “matched up” against defensively. I lined up with the rest of the starters and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the center of attention (something I would LATER appreciate). The opposing coach lined up their weakest player across from me and HE became the center of laughing and taunting from his teammates. I specifically remember hearing one of them say, as he laughed…” you got the girl!” Why yes, yes he does…and he better watch out.
I wasn’t the best on the team, but I had the opportunity to get better. At the time there weren’t enough girls my age who wanted to play at a competitive level, or so everyone thought, so the only option was to play with the boys. But just a year and a half later, because of the growing interest and increased number of talented girls playing, the league started a 6th grade girls travel team and my friends and I would be the first to play on the team, winning the county league and almost every tournament we entered for the next 3 years. And a couple years later, there would be a 5th grade girls travel team added. And a few years after that, they would add a 4th grade girls travel team. And I would later coach all of these girls when they reached middle and high school. And many of them would be far better than we were!
Playing with boys at that age was a defining experience for me and I am so thankful for the opportunity. But the issue here is that the other girls who wanted to play at a higher level didn’t get the chance. If given the chance, how many other girls would have developed their skills and learned how to push themselves to a higher level physically and mentally at such a defining age? After lobbying for the start of the 6th grade girls travel team, my teammates and I would have the opportunity and I am proud to be a part of that change that happend 18 years ago. But in the spirit of the 40th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, I have to give my respect and sincere thank you to those who really opened the eyes on the lack of opportunities for girls in sport so that the path would be paved for us to make change happen that much easier.
And although Title IX specifically addresses sport and activities in schools, I sincerely believe it has transcended far beyond that. There are more females in the work place, more female business owners, more females in the business of sports, more female CEOs, more female breadwinners, more female coaches and more MOMS in the workplace now than pre-Title IX. I believe it is the OPPORTUNITY to play and compete at a young age that creates the confidence necessary to achieve these things later in life. I have to believe that Title IX helped lay the foundation for a far greater society where women can and do contribute more to all of us as a whole.
And we are not there yet. I am not a feminist, I believe in no excuses. Being a woman, or a man, is not an excuse for anything. There are things that men do better and there are things that women do better and that is the nature of who we are. But in the end we can all be better and we can all do more, and if we are given the opportunities, such as sport, to help us each grow as individuals during such defining years of life, we will all be able to be better and do more throughout our lives. It is the recognition that there is still more yet to do, for both men and women, that will continue to drive change so that the world we live in is far better for our children than it is for us.
Title IX might be the vehicle, but it’s all of us who have to drive it.