“You Play Like a Girl!”

Response: “Thank you!”

(Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt, hastening her squad to victory)

Years ago, a male who wished to put down the athletic ability of his challenged team mate chastened, “You play like a girl.” I remember quaking internally, as I thought: “ If he’s a loser in sports, don’t associate him with us women.”

If I blanched from that gender disparagement in my youth, I heard it less in my daughters’ growing up years (in the 70’s and the 80’s). Today, I almost never hear it. Why? Years of gender sensitivity-training, as well as the emergence of tough women players in sports (as well as the televising of same). Both have changed the way women athletes are regarded. They now get the respect they deserve…finally.

You see, I come from an era when females were expected to retreat to the sidelines, in sports. Their “noise” was limited to cheering on their male counterparts in their various athletic pursuits. Girls and women could never demonstrate killer instinct on the courts, in the fields, or on ice…It just wasn’t considered “ladylike.”

I grew up with two older brothers who were phenomenal at just about everything. Not only were they academic stars but they tore up the gridiron, basketball court, and baseball field with their prowess and were honored in every quarter for excellence. In our home, males, intellect, and sports ruled…in that order.

The glory path they blazed made it difficult for me, third born and first girl in my family, but then, it was a different era, where women were expected to shine in domestic skill and attractiveness, attributes designed to ensnare a suitable husband.

Because my father (our town’s first football coach) wanted to insure my brothers enjoy every opportunity to hone their athletic skills, he set up a basketball court in our backyard, sinking a telephone pole into the ground, attaching it to the sturdy swing set he’d built years ago. On that packed dirt court, I got my training from brothers who sought me out when other contenders failed.

They taught me lay-ups, jump shots, fake shots and dribbling. To counter their superior size and strength, I used guile as I spun about, ran behind them, or performed feints designed to throw them off their game. My favorite game, Around the World, meant I never dealt with their bruising interference. In all that practice, I developed a really good eye and powerful thrust. In short, I could sink the basketball in the hoop from a center court distance, a feat that often stunned others.

But a curious thing happened when I got to high school. There, my budding skills came to a screeching halt when I learned a rule of the girls’ basketball league: “Players must pass the ball after 3 dribbles in forward motion.” I was aghast! I couldn’t possibly abide such a truncating of the game I’d learned against tough adversaries. By the third bounce, I was just feeling momentum.

In the end, this rule was not merely our school rule but one established by a host of schools, in consensus. Why did they institute such? I can only think, in retrospect, they thought to protect us, future incubators for the next generation. That same flawed thinking kept women from the front lines in the military or from heavy construction positions in the work force (it didn’t matter that women held those jobs during the war). It took years of consciousness-raising and court-mandated changes to alter that mindset.

Today, the Lady Vols (Lady Volunteers) of Tennessee make me proud, as does their Head Coach, Pat Summitt, a woman who’s made her basketball teams national contenders for 30 years. Each week, Summitt makes believers of folks still baffled by the conundrum of women athletes being attractive. She appears courtside in professional suits and stylish pumps, pressing her women to victory. Summitt’s teams have made the NCAA Women’s Division Basketball Championship Tournament every year since its inception in 1981.

Biddy salutes today’s women athletes and honors coaches like Pat Summitt for their significant role in advancing sports for their gender. Why is it so important? The corporate world is frequently just behind the sports world in trends.

(A confusion to many…Professional softball star pitcher for USA national softball team and the Chicago Bandits, Barbie look-alike Jennie Finch is the most famous women’s softball player in the world. She retired this past July, 2010, to focus on family.)

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A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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