Saturday, October 03, 2009

Girls, Jump Rope and Sports

If you'll click on the title of this post, you will be directed to the web site for the King's Firecrackers, a middle school jump rope team. At the bottom left of the page is a video of their performance at the US Naval Academy. Amazing and thanks to Joe K for the tip that took me to their website.

When I was a child, attending Spencer Elementary School in Defiance, OH, exercise was really not emphasized with girls. At recess we had kickball games that were coed. I was always one of the last to get picked along with Butchie Raabe. And the standing around games for girls were 4- square, some plain jump rope and dodge ball against the side of the building. But by the 6th grade, when we would line up in two rows, boys in one, girls in the other, to go back into Mrs. Stratton's class, the girls were singing "We love you Beatles, oh yes we do. We love you Beatles. And we'll be true. When your not with us, we're blue. Oh Beatles, we love you." Boys and clothes and hair and makeup were starting to become more important than getting dirty playing outdoor games. We didn't have jump rope teams, but you could become a baton twirler and wear fancy white boots with tassels. My mother would have thrown me to the wolves had I asked to do that.

In junior high and high school there was no recess. There was gym. I hated gym. In addition to being around girls in the showers which I was mortified by because everyone else had boobs and I didn't, there were things like cartwheels which I couldn't do (that automatically deducted me from trying out for cheerleading), and basketball was played only half court. I was automatically assigned the defensive half of the court because I couldn't shoot. And I continued to be picked last for competitve games at girl's gym too.

Eventually I learned how to play a bit of football because these guys from Bryan used to drive down and visit my very good looking friend JoAnn and me, her less good looking friend. My dad had purchased a pool table, and we would spend weekends playing pool and going outside and playing tag football. The guys taught me how to throw the football. I was looking forward to the powder puff football game traditionally played between the junior and senior girls in high school. Flag football. But when I became a junior, the game was called off by the School Board. They determined that it was too dangerous for us girls as we could injure our reproductive organs. US???? What about guys, I wondered? Aren't their reproductive organs a little more 'out there' so to speak? But, because my father, my PEDIATRICIAN father, was on the School Board, I didn't talk back or ask any questions.

At college there were competitive women's teams in tennis and perhaps one in swimming, but without a background in sports, I had neither the interest or ability and so did not sign up. I can recall swimming in the college pool (which was really rather gross--Shaw tub it was called) once, to collect on a bet from my then-boyfriend that I could actually swim a mile. My parents had belonged to the country club in Defiance, and in the summers I would ride my bike to the pool and hang out, vainly trying to get a tan to be cool. I picked up swimming almost as an after thought and spent one or two summers in junior high on the swim team. The only time I received a ribbon, was when there were only 3 girls swimming in my event. But somehow I managed to obtain my lifeguard certificate, so unbeknownst to the boyfriend, I really could swim a mile! I think it got me a dinner at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater.

It was not until my last year of college, that I started understanding exercise and sports added, rather than subtracted something from your life. During interim a group of friends formed a volley ball team (the Kirk Carousers) and we got the crap beat out of us regularly. But our broomball team, the Bharath Special Beedie Works, won the Intra Mural Championship. Somehow ice hockey played with brooms and a soccer ball and no skates was a levelling experience--we actually beat the team composed of members of the football squad because they could and did fall as much as we did, and harder too! Rather than a trophy, each team member was awarded an orange tshirt with "MAC IM Champ" emblazoned on it. The early '70's version of a letter jacket. They were items of pride, worn often. I still have mine, ratty with small holes throughout. I took it back for the class reunion this year and wore it when I participated in the fun run Saturday morning.

College was my first real glimpse of what exercise and sports can do for women as well as men. I went on in the limited time I had left there, to be on a women's full court basketball team, take tennis lessons and join a soft ball team (Chastity and the Belts). Not until I joined an adult swim team some twenty years later, did I ever participate in sports so fully.

I am glad that opportunities for women in sports have expanded as a result of the successful Title IX lawsuit against WSU for not fully funding women's sports, brought by the Northwest Women's Law Center in the early '80's. I am proud of my small work for the Law Center as a volunteer, and on the Board,which helped sustain their mission. And I am so glad that my daughter, when she grew up, was on a soccer team for ten years, and high school tennis and swim teams. These were opportunities beginning in kindergarten, to develop friendships with other girls that involved teamwork, not cutthroat competition. Something I only began to learn in college.

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