In Our Own Backyard...You go, girl!
I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched my granddaughter Evie run up and down the court last Friday during the final game of her 3-on-3 basketball season. At age 8, the sturdy little girl is more about “muscle moves” rather than finesse, but she knows all the rules, she plays with boundless enthusiasm and she even sports a pair of those evil-eyed athletic glasses with the stretchy band that add to her intimidation factor.
Despite the fun she had during Friday night’s game, however, we could tell she was ready to move on to the next sport. For one so young, she’s into sports hook, line and sinker. During the fall she plays soccer, during the winter she plays hockey and basketball, and during the spring and summer it’s baseball (though her girlfriends on the basketball team are encouraging her to switch to softball). During the balance of the year, she plays tennis, badminton, pickle ball or whatever else comes her way. It’s given her a level of self-confidence that the normally soft-spoken little girl would likely have not realized at so early an age.
I don’t really have a competitive bone in my body, but perhaps that’s because during my own school years, there were no girls’ varsity sports. The closest thing to it was cheerleading, and since I couldn’t do the splits (a required part of making the squad back then), even that wasn’t much of an option!
Oh sure, we always had good ’ol phy. ed. to fall back on, but it wasn’t much of a substitute. We had to wear those little white, one-piece jumpsuits that we ordered in the fall from JCPenney, and we were assigned squads in which to participate. And though I always excelled in the running events during the final testing each spring, I never really stopped to think what it would be like if I could have participated in track like the boys did because at that point, it wasn’t even on the radar.
What we did have was Girls Athletic Association (G.A.A.), but all we did was participate in intramural sports, and then only a handful were offered. My junior yearbook stated, “The Girls Athletic Association gave many girls an introduction to recreation games in weekly sessions. Several new sports were added this year, including gymnastics and rhythmic ball exercises.”
Seniors did have the chance to letter after completing eight sessions of activities in two years as part of G.A.A., and I recall earning mine primarily through bowling! Of course, there were no team uniforms, no cheerleaders or pep bands and no public performances under the “Friday night lights” before crowds of excited fans. We did what we did just for the chance to do it.
The yearbook picture of our G.A.A. group in my senior year was posted right next to the picture of the Ushers Club. It was a single shot of 46 girls in skirts all lined up in rows on risers. A couple of pages further back in the yearbook, an entire section of the book was devoted to sports, with exciting action shots of the football, cross country, basketball, gymnastics, hockey, wrestling, baseball, track and golf teams — all of them boys — and then, at the end, were the cheerleaders.
That was in 1967, and a couple of years later, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) hired a crusading pioneer by the name of Dorothy McIntyre to assist schools in developing girls’ sports programs. Her work, along with a handful of others, eventually resulted in the MSHSL approving the recommendation to sponsor certain girls’ sports on much the same scale as it did for boys’ sports. That was well ahead of the eventual passage of Title IX, which made equity between girls and boys sports in high schools mandatory.
“The landscape was still pretty bare, with a scattering of school teams experimenting with some competition in various sports around the state,” commented McIntyre at the time. “So we continued working, expanding our efforts and encouraging schools to develop teams as quickly as they could.”
All of that came too late for me, of course, but ever since then it has benefitted hundreds of thousands of girls all over the state and country who can now take the privilege for granted — girls, in fact, just like Evie!