National Girls and Women in Sports Day is celebrated annually during the first week of February. While our celebration has moved to a digital platform this year, it is no less important to take a few minutes to recognize the impact of sports participation, past and present, in our own school community.
This year, Spartan coaches, athletic trainers and administrators are sharing some of their favorite moments from lifetimes dedicated to sport. Read on for some lessons learned, blasts from the past and, most importantly, celebrations of female achievement in an industry traditionally dominated by men.
Kathy Coe, Middle School Athletic Director
I started playing sports at the age of 3, when my dad, who played tennis at Baylor and in the Air Force, would take me to his Monday night leagues. He gave me a racquet and a ball and sent me to the concrete backboard wall to occupy myself. That was the beginning. Sports was a way to connect with my dad, whether it was time in our yard throwing a ball, watching a sporting event on TV, or learning to play tennis and golf with him. It was an important way for us to build our relationship. As a result, I became pretty good at sports, and I got a lot of positive feedback as I played in elementary, middle school and high school, as well as later in college. I gained so much from sports, and I learned a lot about myself. It ended up being a good thing for me to pursue as a career.
I remember sixth grade was the first year that girls could wear a t-shirt and shorts for PE. Prior to that, girls were required to wear blue bloomers with snaps all the way up the side. It was horrible. My mother bought me one in case I wanted to wear it still, but I stuck to the t-shirt and shorts. You would have had to pay me a lot of money to wear that thing!
My high school did not have a basketball team until a classmate's dad went before the school board when we were in eighth grade and petitioned to start a team. After the school board agreed, he called my family to ask me to play on the team.
That fall, the school hired a computer science teacher that fall and assigned her to coach us. It was clear that as ninth graders, we knew more than she did about basketball. We lost every game — except for a close one that I’ll never forget. The other team was terrible, far worse than us. Unfortunately, we had two girls stay home with the flu, and three girls fouled out during the game. Only one other girl and I were left on the floor for the last minute of the game, and we only lost by one point!
I think that's another reason that it's important for girls to recognize National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Things have changed a lot, and I always heard older people talk about how things were "back in the day." Now, I can share my stories about what it was like to participate in athletics during my adolescence — which was longer ago than I care to admit — and show our students how different things used to be!
Kathy Rainey, Director of Sports Medicine
There are so many valuable takeaways from sport participation. From maintaining positive health and promoting social change, to realizing individual potential, sports allow people to impact the world around them and become the best versions of themselves.
First, it is important that women participate in sports because of the physical and mental health benefits. Lifelong participation in some form of sport or exercise benefits the mind and the body. Sport is medicine. Exercise is prevention.
Second, sport can be a powerful vehicle for change. Athletes at every level have a platform that can be used to change the world. Without them standing up and using their voices, many social justice issues would have advanced far slower. Because they are role models, they have the power to confront social issues in need of attention and change and can help people reconsider their personal beliefs or take action. For example, the Atlanta Dream women's basketball team recently took a public stance supporting Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name. The Dream then chose to publicly support Raphael Warnock for senator, who was running against the team’s partial owner, Kelly Loeffler. Loeffler had been unsupportive of the team’s BLM initiatives, but the Dream’s collective voice was loud and clear, helping to secure Warnock’s senate seat victory.
When I was growing up, USA Women’s Soccer superstar Mia Hamm showed me that women could play sports that were traditionally considered men's sports. It was not until I saw Hamm and the women's world cup team competing in televised matches at the highest international level that I had a role model in my own sport. I was finally watching women play the game I loved, and it meant so much. Before that, televised women’s sports mostly consisted of tennis, ice skating, gymnastics and random individual sports on ABC's “Wide World of Sports.” At the time, women were stereotyped on TV, and it was hard to find role models in the sports that I loved. I’m so appreciative of the fact that now girls know that they can play collegiately and professionally. Truly, it’s important for us all to recognize the impact of “if you can see her, you can be her.”
Chelsea Richards, Assistant Athletic Director and Sports Information Director
It took me a long time to recognize inequities in sport. I grew up in a family with older sisters and attended an all-girls school from kindergarten through high school. Being part of a team with endless support and encouragement was second nature to me. My sisters and I spent our weekends and summer breaks on playing fields, in the gym or outside playing with one another. You name the activity, and we probably played it. Looking back, I see now how much support my parents offered. My dad often coached our teams — from basketball to soccer to softball. My mom kept us on track, driving me to games or tryouts, taking me to camps, and encouraging me to keep pushing myself.
I do not think it was until I got to college that I realized how differently men’s and women’s sports were supported or celebrated. My collegiate career began 35 years after Title IX legislation had passed, and while I recognize how far women’s athletics have come, I have seen the loopholes and inequities firsthand. In some ways, growing up a bit naive about that imbalance allowed me to gain confidence in myself. I recognize how lucky I am to have a family, teammates and coaches that constantly pushed me toward my potential.
As I look back on my athletic career, I can attribute a lot of my character-building moments to successes or failures on a field or in a gym. When I was in elementary, middle school and high school, being part of a team was my social outlet. I learned how to make friends and work with others. As I began to train more seriously and specialize in field hockey during my junior and senior years of high school, I learned how to set goals, push myself outside of my comfort zone and confidently promote myself during the recruiting process.
I chose to be part of a top-tier NCAA Division I program, so I figured out how to balance my priorities and become a better self-advocate — and a lot of that was through failure rather than successes. After graduating, sports took on a new place in my life. As an adult, I played, and still play, recreationally in leagues with friends and even met my husband on a soccer field. In fact, we held a bride vs. groom kickball game on our wedding day, and I am still bitter about losing that one!
Now, as a coach, I think my biggest takeaway has become the importance of being a good listener and creating a space where athletes are not afraid to fail. Long story short, each phase of my life has allowed me to take something from sport and, hopefully, become a better person.