Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Am Woman

This Saturday will mark the final women's basketball home game of the season, as well as one of the highlights of the Princeton athletic calendar: National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

The event begins at 4:30 with an interactive sports clinic featuring coaches and athletes from several Princeton women's teams. There are few events at Princeton that are done better or are better received. If you are in Jadwin Gym for the clinic, head up to the balcony and see the wide-angle view; it's Americana at its finest.

It's also something that would never have happened not that long ago, at least in Princeton athletic history terms, and something for which the current generation owes a great deal of thanks to the early Princeton athletes, many of whom they've never met.

Thanks to them, athletic opportunities for girls are pretty much equal to those for boys. On the high school level, there were 295,000 girls who played sports in 1971; there are more than 3,000,000 today. The numbers on the youth level are even more extraordinary. Intercollegiately, participation among women athletes is up nearly 500% since 1971.

Today, Princeton - or any other school - would never dream of having the men's teams get all the prefered practice times and make the women practice around them. There's no thought of having athletic training or sports information or out-of-region travel or league championships only for the men.

It hasn't always been that way. Princeton's earliest women's lacrosse teams wore cheerleading uniforms to compete. As recently as the 1980s there was still three times as many men's teams as women's teams.

Yes, the 1970s was when the revolution began. There's was the women's movement in general ("women's lib") and Helen Reddy singing "I Am Woman" and of course the federal legislation known as "Title IX." Still, progress didn't come quickly for women's athletics.

"In a lot of ways, it's taken the women who had a chance to play to have daughters and want them not to have to go through what they went through," says women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer, whose career at Harvard came about just after women started to get greater acceptance as athletes.

Through the years, TigerBlog has gotten an opportunity to talk to several of the early pioneers from the 1970s, women like Susan Mooney, the Gengler sisters, Emily Goodfellow, Cathy Corcionne, Janet Morrison Clarke and others. Some of have spoken very bitterly about what they had to endure as young athletes, but they have also been universally grateful for the progress that has been made.

TigerBlog believes - or at least hopes - that womens' athletics would have evolved to their current state without the Title IX legislation, but there's not way to know that. Any way, it doesn't matter much.

What's important is that events like National Girls and Women In Sports Day at Princeton feature an army of little girls who already have had the opportunity and encouragement to play sports.

Check it out Saturday. Bring the girls - and the boys. It's sociology and history, all wrapped around sports.

And a lot of fun.

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