Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gender Bender

by Scott Hall

Kate Smith (right)is an 8th grader at Detroit Lakes.  This Spring she won the Class 2A girls state championship in golf, shooting a remarkable 140 for two rounds, 9 strokes ahead of her nearest opponent., and led her DL team to the state title.

It rained Saturday and so I turned on the TV.  On ESPN the Minnesota Lynx were locked in a ferocious contest with the "Sky", Chicago's entry in the WNBA.  The Lynx are the defending champions and so every team makes an exceptional effort to knock them off.  Minnesota's home grown hero, Lindsey Whalen (below), had 25 points and some dazzling assists and the Lynx won 79-67 to run their record to 12 wins and one loss. Lindsey was the best player on the court this day, but she isn't even the best player on her team.  In fact, the Lynx make such discussions moot because it is such a good team in the truest sense.

During breaks in the action I surfed the other ESPN channels - there are three or four - and each had an angle on girls and women sports:  an international girls volleyball tournament in Florida, profiles of basketball and soccer stars.  The reason for this focus is the 40th anniversary of Title Nine, the federal law that opened up opportunities for women in colleges that get federal money.

Title Nine was an amendment to the Higher Education Act in 1972.  It met with little opposition until years later when the breadth of its application was challenged in court. It was coincidental but appropriate that Title Nine passed on Wilma Rudolph's birthday.  Wilma (right) was born on June 23, 1940 in Clarksville, Tennessee, one of Ed and Blanch Rudolph's 22 kids!  She was in poor health for much of her childhood including a left leg and foot made lame by polio.  In 1960, at age 20, she represented the U.S. in the Olympic games in Rome, won 3 gold medals in track, and became known as the fastest woman in the world.

I remember watching those Olympics as a kid, wowed by the exploits of Wilma, Rafer Johnson in the decathalon, Cassius Clay in boxing, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson in basketball.  Wilma retired from racing in 1962 at age 22.  Track athletes in those days had to keep their amateur status to compete in the most prestigious events. In 1963 she got a degree in elementary education and became a teacher and coach.  As a kid I was oblivious to the barriers - both racial and educational - minority and women athletes had to overcome.  Those weren't the good old days.  There were many we never knew who didn't get the chance.  Title Nine blew the lid off those limits and created vast opportunities for women, well beyond sports.

I don't know if Title Nine could happen today.  It would be called overreach and social engineering by the federal government by some, and against God's will by others.  The most naive among us would say we are past the days when prejudice can deny opportunity.  But it's something every generation has to learn.

No comments: