Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) is one of my favorite baseball twitter follows. She was tweeting for the Astros when I first began my love affair with twitter; the love affair with baseball and the Astros goes back much farther, as I’m sure y’all know. Now she is a correspondent for MLB and covers everything baseball, but she still obviously has a fond spot for Houston and the Astros. Happily, she doesn’t seem very unique to me, as a woman covering sports/baseball. I’m sure she understands what a “long way, baby” women in sports journalism have come, but that’s not actually where I was going with this post.
Today, she tweeted that she was interested in seeing how far Tim Tebow (the former NFL QB) gets in baseball, but that there was zero chance that he would ever play in the major leagues. She got some pushback along the never-say-never line, to which she replied that a 100 mph fastball reaches the plate in 396 milliseconds and that success in high school and monster shots in batting practice equate to nothing at the professional level. Then she and a few co-sports journos shared some of their high school sports accomplishments. It was pretty funny. That’s not actually where I am going with this post, either, but that is what sparked my thoughts for this post, because it made me remember that my crowning athletic achievement in high school is that I was the first girl at my school to receive a varsity letter.
I know that some of my loyal readers, i.e. the daughters, might consider me old. At 56, I am not THAT old, but am old enough to have lived on the very cusp of the parts of the women’s equality movement that were sparked by Title IX. There are some exceptions and clarifications in the full transcript of the law, but the substance of Title IX is contained in one sentence:
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.
Title IX was signed into law by Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. I had just completed 7th grade in a Chicago suburb. In the fall of 1972, my junior high started an interscholastic girls volleyball team. This was our first official girls sport. (Note: There may have been a girls track team. Track and Field was never my interest or my forte, but I don’t recall a team.) Before I go any further, let me clarify that I have always loved sports and have never had more that average-at-best athletic ability. Summer fun league softball was a happy staple from 6th grade thru high school. An intramural athletic club (GAA) was my focus of extracurricular activity in high school (and the by far the largest club at the school), and collegiate intramurals were always terrific fun. The rise of competitive girls sports has, in many ways, diminished the opportunities for casual athletes like myself. It’s a worthwhile and necessary trade-off.
When I entered high school, girls had one, all-grade level team in four sports: track, tennis, gymnastics, and archery. From my old year book pictures, I’d guess that roughly 70 girls, out of a total school population of
500 2000 (Correction: there were 500 in my class and 2000 in my school), were in interscholastic athletics (and, like today, there were probably several multi-sport athletes.) New sports for girls were gradually added. There were at least 160 girl athletes pictured in my senior year book, with the addition of volleyball, basketball, and softball teams.
Was I on any of these teams? No. So what’s with the varsity letter thing?
First of all, girls didn’t earn varsity letters. Possibly because there was only one team, not really a “varsity” team, but more likely because no one thought about it and no one really cared. Letters and letter jackets were for boys. (Also, letters were only awarded in athletics.) My sophomore year, a friend and I leapt at the opportunity to become managers (as in equipment manager) of the varsity boys baseball team. Because baseball!…and boys! That was another first for my high school. Girls back then did not help the boys’ teams as managers or trainers. This surprisingly forward thinking baseball coach was far from being an ERA supporter (the Equal Rights Amendment was also passed in 1972, but was never ratified), but he considered us a full part of the team and at the end of the season we were awarded our varsity letters along with the players. Letters for all?/some of? the girls sports began being awarded the following year. (Maybe even that same year, my memory is foggy, but if nothing else, the baseball letter ceremony was one of the first of that year. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
One final note: Girls did not get letter jackets. So I knit myself a letter sweater.
I heard several comments about how there were more women than men on the US Olympic team this summer, and how that fact is directly linked to Title IX. I’m happy to report that in a tiny way, I was a part of the beginning of that revolution. We’ve come a long way, baby.