I usually don't watch sports on television – I make an exception for March Madness and the women's tournament.
I got my first basketball in the sixth grade. I loved playing. I would have loved playing on a team even more, but that was back before schools believed they had to provide equal sports opportunities for girls. Some schools offered basketball for girls, most did not. The grade school I attended didn't think it was necessary. The sixth grade boys had a team that competed with other schools. The sixth grade girls got to play basketball at recess. Big whoop. That was 1971.
On June 23, 1972, things changed. Title IX was enacted. The new federal law stated, "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."
In other words, "Schools, if you want federal money, stop discriminating based on sex."
The biggest area of discrimination? Sports.
In 1972, the school I attended had a girls' basketball program.
We didn't get the facilities, the locker rooms, the uniforms, the playing times, or any of the extras that the boys' teams took for granted, but we had a team. And after having nothing before, we were ecstatic.
Today, I look at how far women's sports programs have come and I'm very envious. All kinds of opportunities are out there for girls of all ages. Even with schools cutting back because of budget constraints, if they offer boys sports, they have to offer girls sports. There have been many challenges to the law, many disputes over what constitutes equal, and many complaints over adding girls sports if it meant cutting a boys' sport in order to be able to fund a sport for the girls. And what the schools can't afford, private organizations can and do. Girls' softball, volleyball, tennis, fencing, and yes, even basketball community or club leagues are common
Are men's and women's sports treated equally? Are they equally funded? Equally supported by their communities? No. But I have hope that someday they will be. We have come a long way since 1972.
As I write this blog, I think of one of my heroes, Pat Summitt, the University of Tennessee women's basketball head coach. She started as an assistant coach at the university in 1974, having grown up during the time when girls' sports was an oddity, not a given. A lot of the respect women's basketball has achieved in the last 34 years has been due to Pat Summitt's efforts.
The other night I watched her mostly freshman team lose in the first round to Ball State. Although the Tennessee team and coach were visibly disappointed, along with the pundits and fans, I couldn't help but think how lucky they were. Win or lose, their destiny is determined, not by their gender, but by talent, hard work, and desire.
March Madness? Sure. Sixty-four teams of talented, athletic, smart young women playing a team sport, their games broadcast on national television.
Quite a change from the time when girls were lucky to touch a basketball at recess.
Bring on the madness.
P.S. - New interview with both halves of Evelyn David is up at Ask Wendy - The Query Queen's blog - Check it out - Ten Questions by Ask Wendy – The Query Queen
Evelyn David interview http://tinyurl.com/EvelynDavidinterview