Kids today have the option of picking a sport, individual or team, learning it and playing it. Gender doesn’t have a lot to do with the options anymore. When I was a young, there was no such thing as organized team sports or individual competitions for girls. We learned the rules of a few games in PE such as badminton, volleyball, and basketball, but outside of that 30 to 45 minute exposure there was nothing. Soccer didn’t exist, baseball was a boy’s all-American pastime unless you could convince them to make room for you on the vacant neighborhood field and football was definitely off-limits. That is until I entered high school.
In high school the junior girls and the senior girls were given one prime time spot to play an annual game of what was entitled “powder puff football.” It was flag football, but for once a year the varsity football coaches took on the teams, the football field was reserved, they printed up jerseys for each team and we played under the big lights with professional announcers. The seniors had their pride to defend and the juniors were motivated to upset their upper class-women. I don’t quite recall my junior debut, but I do remember learning the game. We did not win, but I learned the strategy of the game, because in powder puff football, brawn has no place. As a senior, I played the position of safety. I was small, but I was quick. My job was to watch the play enfold with the opposing team and be opportunistic. Since I was quick, I could get to that flag before the offense was out of reach or I could look for the interception or turnover. I also was on the field to return the ball on the kick off. My football success story was to retrieve a fumble and run the ball close to the end zone giving the seniors the game advantage.
After the “big league” treatment, girls’ sports went back to being underfunded and relegated to the bits and pieces left over after the boys' varsity sports practiced and played. I was on the girls’ gymnastics team which had to wait for the boys' wrestling team to finish with the floor mats to practice our floor routines, we rarely had access to the weight room as there was still a widespread belief that girls and strength were an unnecessary combination. We regularly held bake sales to help fund travel to away meets and to pay for our team leotards. Girls’ sports were under funded, under attended, and underestimated. I say we were underestimated because the fight for gym space, the drive to find the funds to travel, and the right to play under the lights never left the girl. I suspect there are many successful women out there that cut their teeth on that fight and found it was just the right training for the rest of their journey into the reality of adulthood. It made us empowering mothers, resourceful executives and thrifty business women. I often wonder what the girls of today will accomplish now that they have uniforms, bright lights, and opportunity. I like to believe the sky is the limit.