I was delighted to read this week that the Watergate break-in was not the only noteworthy event from the week I was born. Title IX, which requires federally-funded schools to spend equally on sports for both genders, came into the world at the same time I did. As someone who attended Catholic schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, I don’t know what direct effect, if any, the legislation had on me/parochial schools. I do know that participating in sports changed my life. I was a mostly timid, sedentary kid until age 10 when I started playing soccer in the local SAY league. In high school I swam on my school’s swim team for four years even though my prior swimming experience had been mostly limited to underwater talking and handstands with Amy at the local pool. “Did you know I cry when the first girl crosses the finish line at your cross-country meets?” I asked Laurel. “Because it’s not me?” she asked. “No!” I said. “Because they’re so strong and worked so hard. When I was in high school, our swim team was locked out of the weight room that the football players used. The football coach, a revered presence not just in our school but in the state, said that his team had earned the money for the equipment through ticket sales, but we hadn’t. Sexism was the air I breathed in high school. But you and your teammates aren’t constantly bombarded with sexist messages from authority. I cry when the last person crosses, too, because I’ve been that person. When all eyes are on you and you know there’s no way you’re going to win, but you do your best the whole way and you finish.”
When I was at hospice the night Wayne died, employees called a pastor who kindly came in the middle of the night to talk to me. “I can’t raise two kids on my own!” I cried. “Yes, you can!” she said. And yes, I did. If I hadn’t had the self-confidence and work ethic that I learned through sports, I would not be the person and parent I am today.
Here’s to the dads of Kathleen and Cathleen. One started SAY soccer in Hamilton; the other was my first soccer coach. Here’s to my own dad who believed that parents should let children play for the joy of play, not for parents to live vicariously through them. When Dad saw little kids getting screamed at by their coach or parents on a distant field, he’d yell (really loud), “Aw, leave ’em play!” Here’s to my friend Sheri who gave me my first soccer team application when she came to my tenth birthday party. Here’s to Jeff, my sophomore-year swim coach, who showed infinite patience in teaching me to do flip turns and breaststroke. (I don’t think our prior year “coach” knew how to swim and therefore never gave advice.) And here’s to all the girls who never give up.