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We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby – In Women’s Sports


I am, perhaps, one of the most uncoordinated women on earth. Oh, yes, I had the distinction of managing my seventh-grade softball team, but in retrospect, I suspect my team gave me the job as a manager because voting me the position of manager kept me from either guarding a base or handling a bat.

I have somehow accomplished a few sports during my lifetime. I learned to ice skate at the tender age of five on a meandering city park pond in the heart of Worcester. I managed to straighten my buckling ankles and have lovely childhood memories of taking care of my gorgeous pair of lace-up, white skates. I continued to skate for fun after we moved to the West Coast and into my pre-teens on the public indoor ice close to my neighborhood in Berkeley, CA. The San Francisco Bay Area was also where I learned to swim and play tennis in free summer camps.

I also roller-skated everywhere as a young girl, traveling on expandable metal roller skates with the skates’ key dangling from a piece of ribbon around my neck. Moving to the hilly suburbs, however, put a damper on that activity when, used to flat, city streets, the brakes were applied to my skating when I fell and broke my left arm for the third time.

As a high-schooler, I learned to ski in the Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe. I continued for years, leading my young daughters down New England slopes. Yet, I soon lost my ski partners when they abandoned me to the double black diamonds on the slopes in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. I bought myself cross-country skis instead. I fell in love with the solitude of whispering pines and quieter, slower trails, but gave it up when falling became too threatening for 60-year old bones.

I had the distinction of earning a high school Varsity letter at the Senior Sports Banquet in June 1970. I received the honor because I had spent the season expertly, and proudly, handling my football statistician’s clipboard, while managing to send beaming smiles to my handsome Varsity team boyfriend.

Coincidentally, in the wake of a star-struck nation obsessed with the Women’s World Cup win, I was suddenly struck by the fact that none of my high school girlfriends had been members of a high school sports team, let alone a soccer team. Our high school was a suburban, middle-class institution. We went to school just across the bay from San Francisco and just north of some of the most progressive school systems in the country. Yet, there was not one high school sports team for girls. I verified that fact by finding my high school yearbook online. Evidence proved that male classmates joined the wrestling, baseball, football, tennis, basketball, golf, and track teams. My female friends (active, academically solid students) were cheerleaders, artists, singers, actors, and writers, but not one high school athlete was among us. (Interestingly, some New England high schools and others across the country supported girls’ sports teams well before the 70s. My husband, Gerry, remembers many female athletes in his high school in Framingham.)

I soon realized that our high school, and probably many other suburban California schools, did not treat girls’ sports with the same respect (and money – mostly money) that they treated boys’ sports. We had Phys Ed every day – playing basketball in the gym, archery behind the school, and softball on the fields. We did not, however, play sports against other high school teams.

Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments Act in 1972 (guided into law by Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii). Title IX is a federal law stating that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In their online July 6 edition, The Guardian wrote that, “by demanding that schools provide opportunities for young girls to play sports and mandating that universities provide equal scholarship funding, Title IX created opportunity and incentive” for women’s sports in a void that faced many young women before 1972.

Well, congratulations, Congress. This was two years after I graduated from high school, and it changed the lives of young women across the country.

Of course, the rest is history in women’s sports. In 1974 the Women’s Sports Foundation was established. (Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in 1973.) In 1983, Sports Illustrated named track star Mary Decker as the Sportswoman of the year. In 1985, women were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Women’s Volleyball League was established in 1986. In 1972, one in 27 girls participated in sports. Today the number is two in 5, a dramatic increase of over 900%.

In 1991, the Women’s World Cup for soccer was established, and the United States won that competition. The Women’s World Cup is held every four years, and the US team won eight years later in 1999 and again in 2015. 24 women’s world teams participated in 2019, and the US team won once again, this time four years later, for consecutive wins. On July 6, The Guardian wrote: “the talent pool for female soccer players in America appears bottomless.” Title IX “has nurtured several generations of women and girls.”

Beginning in 1964, the American Youth Soccer Association (AYSA) ignited a flame across the country. Other organizations were taking hold in every community across the country (the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association among them). My young daughters were on town soccer fields in kindergarten in the mid to late 1980s where I chatted with other parents, sometimes frozen or dodging raindrops. I admit that I often chose to be home making dinner when my daughters’ father was coaching, but I supported their sports participation, nevertheless. Without Title IX, my girls would not have gone on to run cross-country or play college rugby, among other sports like swimming and skiing.

Congratulations, Congress. And thank you for changing women’s lives in 1972.

If you’d like to read about some of our amazing US women’s soccer players, the library has many biographies, including one about Hope Solo. The youth collection contains a plethora of books about soccer, meant to encourage girls and boys alike. Without Title IX, young female sportswomen would not be making history in the United States.

Congratulations, Congress.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the July 19, 2019 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.


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