Great Patience and Double Overtime:
Empowering Women through Athletics
by Dani Drews, Director of Athletics and Recreation
As a sports fan, I have learned that any fourth-quarter lead is not enough for a Miami Dolphins fan if Dan Marino isn’t on the field. From my playing days, I know that a 14-3 lead in volleyball (in a game to 15) is not enough to ensure victory. And as a coach, I have come to know that the best thing that you can do for first-year players is let them dig themselves into a hole and then give them a chance to pull themselves out. I have also learned that playing the game the right way helps make a loss a little easier to take. And know for sure what goes around will come around, even if it takes great patience and double overtime.
If I’d been born 10 years earlier, I might not have had the chance to learn these lessons. If I’d graduated from college in 1978 instead of 1988, I would not have had the chance to play several sports in high school and college. In fact, I probably would have missed out on the fabulous career I have now.
Until Senator Birch Bayh and Congresswoman Edith Green
proposed Title IX of the Education Amendment in 1972—the landmark legislation that in part prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of gender—women were denied the same opportunity to participate in athletics that men received.
The reasons ranged from the opinion that it was
unattractive for women to play sports; the belief that exercise contributed to sterility; or my personal favorite, the ridiculous assumption that women were simply not interested in sports. But interest is not created in a vacuum. If you are never given a chance to experience something, how could you possibly cultivate interest?
The theory that women are not
interested in sports was challenged by pioneers like Babe Diedrikson, Wilma Rudolph, Getrude Ederle, and Kathleen Switzer. If you don’t recognize them, shame on you! Read about their achievements at the Women’s Sports Foundation website:
It is true that in 1971, only one in 27 girls participated in athletics. But more than 30 years after the enactment of Title IX, that figure is now 1 in 2.5, an increase of over 800-percent. Almost three million high school age girls participate annually on athletic teams, and a 2000 study, “Gaining Ground: A Progress Report on Women in Sports,” showed that in 1999, 12.6 million girls over age 6 played basketball.
Since Title IX’s enactment, a generation of mothers and fathers have watched their daughters sliding, digging, and defending and accomplishing much off the playing field as well. We even have long-term research that proves the health, educational and social benefits of competition for women.Hot off the presses, the July 2007 issue of Youth and Society contains a study from Brigham Young University that shows participation in high school athletics raises the likelihood that a young woman will graduate from college by 41-percent.
Other studies show that participation in sports can reduce a young girl’s risk of high cholesterol and blood pressure, and breast cancer. Female athletes are less likely to become pregnant during their teenage years, use drugs, or become involved in abusive relationships. They report greater self-esteem, academic achievement, and self confidence.
There are the long hours of practice, the demands of teamwork, and “the agony of defeat.” But these are not the down sides. They are the stuff that builds character, poise and inner strength.
While the playing field is still not level—high school, college and professional female athletes consistently receive less funding, support and financial compensation than their male counterparts— and while the same hand wringing, debate, and stereotypes that surround women in athletics surrounds women’s colleges (just swap “women’s colleges” and “athletics” in any of the arguments), creating opportunities for women to excel is what Russell Sage College does best.
Athletes at Russell Sage College never have to fight with the football team for funding or the ice hockey team for attention. If you need proof, come to a Sage game sometime this year. Who do you see in the audience? It’s not just women supporting women (although Sage students have their own rowdy bleacher section for that). You’ll see mothers, fathers, grandmothers, uncles, and neighbors. Nobody cares that the sweeper is 5’2 and weighs 100 pounds soaking wet. What they care about is that she can run down an opposing wing on a break away and drive a direct kick into the upper left corner in the 89th minute of the game. (After the game, she’s probably heading home to study to keep up her 3.2 GPA.)
As any athlete can attest, most challenges are marathons, not sprints. You cannot win a championship after one day of practice just as you cannot change ingrained opinions overnight. But, you can—and Russell Sage student-athletes do—test those attitudes every day by refusing to stay on the sidelines.