I’ve just been to my first High School State Meet. Ever. For girls.
My freshman daughter’s high school girls’ 2010 cross country team made it to State. We all traveled out to Terre Haute this weekend for the big spectacle. And a big spectacle we got. Thousands of people scurrying from one viewing point to another, multiple fields of endless car parking, cities of colorful team tents and suburbs of port-a-potties, media on ladders and miles of fences loosely corralling runners and watchers into interconnecting human rivers.
My own freshman high school girls' swim team would have made it to State in Minnesota in 1974, and well might have won it. If there had been one. Only 2 years after the enactment of Title IX, the “Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act,” the gains for women’s athletics were still modest.
But significant. Growing up in frigid South Dakota, a young girl’s athletic choices boiled down to ballet or tap, swimming, and summer softball, only the last of which involved team spirit and competition. Hopelessly out of place in a dance studio, I swam, moved to a larger community, and swam competitively; I began to discover the power and pleasure at the heart of the athletic experience, feeling muscles grow strong, exploring the new-found psychological confidence that springs from gaining physical strength and control of one’s body.
High school girls’ team sports, however, were truly transformative. As we 1970's swim girls trained, competed, partied, sang on the bus, banqueted, mangled our unsingable national anthem, and crushed our competition together, solidarity flourished, individual agendas fell away, and barriers to more positive girl connections dissolved in the water. I can only imagine what ascending through a state tournament system might have forged among us.
My first season on the Girls' Cross Country Ski Team was even better. When we stripped off our outdoor gear and showered naked together, it was the most constructive body image revelation I could have hoped for, as we all realized that no body is “perfect,” that each of us is self-conscious about some perceived flaw. There was no snow that year, so we ran and ran and ran in winter twilight, although none of us was a runner first. That unasked-for group exertion under difficult circumstances hammered us into something hard and shiny and beautiful, a glittering gem of memory I treasure.
Watching my daughter’s team run in this elite, demanding event was thrilling, and deeply healing. We left after the girls’ race (to attend the other daughter’s concert), so we could even pretend that all the fuss was about the girls alone.
Hurrah for Girls’ High School Sports! Thanks, Patsy Mink! And congratulations to both BHSN and BHSS Girls’ X-C Teams, for putting your hearts into your sport, for all the selfless support and love you have offered one another, and for seizing an opportunity most girls throughout history never imagined.
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse