“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…”
While I was born about 10 years after Title IX was enacted, I believe it helped pave the way for a girl like me to freely play school sports, and may have even helped contribute to my ability to do this job that I love here at the Spinal Column Newsweekly.
I started playing intramural school sports in third-grade when I began playing basketball at St. Matthew’s School in Detroit. When my family moved out of the city, I started up basketball again in fifth-grade, and that began a journey that led me to some of the strongest friendships I have.
The girls I met playing basketball that year stuck with me through middle school, when we went from intramural to the official school team; then on to high school freshmen, JV, and eventually varsity teams. There were years our team was pretty good (in sixth-grade we were undefeated), and years where we were really bad (freshman year, I think we won two games), but it was always fun, even when it was tough.
When I was in high school, girls basketball was still played in the fall, so every summer we started to get ready for the season. I usually went to one or two basketball camps over the summer to try and get back in shape and improve my skills. My favorite was the Metro D camp at Harper Woods High School. The gyms were blazing hot for the week of camp, but somehow it made the work more fun, and I became much better as a player.
Between my sophomore and junior years, our team went to team camp at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. This is a week that my friends and I still talk about, even though it was at least 15 years ago by now. Team camp was basically a tournament-style set up where you played teams from other parts of the state and listened to workshops from coaches of all the other teams. But mostly, I remember the drive up and back with my friends and sneaking out of the dorm rooms we were staying in at night.
Then came the summer tryouts and practices. We started in August, about two or three weeks before school started, in hot gyms with no air conditioning. Running sprints — back then they were called “suicides” — and we had to do them in less than 28 seconds or the WHOLE TEAM had to do them again. There was learning the plays and working on our fundamentals. Juniors and seniors had “double sessions” in which we RAN all practice from 8 to 11 a.m., went home at lunch, and returned in the afternoon to practice plays.
I can remember getting in my car one day after a morning session. My legs were so sore, I thought, “I’m never going to be able to get out of this car again.” All the physical work was hard, but it kept me healthy, and taught me how to push myself through the pain. Every time I go to the gym now and the workout is really tough, I don’t quit. I can do it because I remember back to those double sessions as a teenager, and I did it then.
In high school, I was never really on a winning team and I was never really the greatest player. I am tall, so I played center, but not as tall as most girls who played that position, so I was up against girls who were often over 6-feet, and at “only” 5-foot-9-inches, I sometimes struggled. By senior year, I developed a hook shot that ended up working quite well against the bigger girls. That was thanks to the Metro D camp, and hours spent in my driveway at the hoop.
There were plenty of struggles playing sports all those years, injuries, including 10 stitches to my forehead, a severely sprained foot, and countless pairs of smashed glasses until I convinced my parents to get me contacts (My mom actually threatened me with “athletic goggles,” THE HORROR!). There was a stint with playing volleyball that ended up with me sitting on the bench during an ENTIRE Saturday tournament for no reason I could understand. There was my junior year, when I actually didn’t make the varsity basketball team (it’s hard to admit this online); I ended up playing on JV that year. All of the struggles taught me how to be tough, how to deal with failure, how to get over disappointment, how to push myself, and how to work with others as a team.
It was those shared lessons that I think held me and my friends close in the 20-some years since we started playing basketball together. When you have had to push each other to do better, yet count on each other to make a play, and when you have shared victories and crushing defeats, you learn fierce dedication to one another. You know that no matter how tough the situation, you can work it out. This has been true to my lasting friendships with the people I call “my basketball girls.”
We have been friends for over 20 years now. When I tell people about how long I have been friends with these women, often they are surprised. It seems maybe it’s not so common to hold onto friendships from grade school and high school, but with these women, we know no reason why not. My basketball girls are my fiercest friends because they are such strong women, and I know they have my back when I need them. I am so proud to know them.
Of course, there are our parents, who were there yelling in the stands at every game, even when most were not winning games. I can still hear my mom in my head yelling, “Get the ball, red. Get the ball!” Just as we have stayed friends over these years, in so many ways have our moms: Sharing the graduations and weddings and births of babies.
I can’t help wonder if Title IX hadn’t been enacted if any of this would have been possible. My basketball games had little attendance from people other than our parents, so I can imagine that, given the chance, the program could have easily been dropped because I am sure it lost money for the school. Title IX’s existence prohibited that.
If there was no Title IX and no opportunity for me to play sports, would I have made the friends I have? Would I be able to push myself to run on the treadmill and lift those extra few reps at the gym on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m.? Would I be able to handle life’s ups and downs? My guess is probably not, or at least not in the same way. I am so appreciative of the experiences I had playing sports in school, and all of those I played with, against, who coached, and supported us. I am stronger and happier for my experiences.
Finally, I don’t believe that my job as photographer here at the Spinal Column Newsweekly would be as it is without Title IX. You see, a large part of my job is photographing high school sports, and that includes boys and girls sports. Would I have as much work opportunity as I do if there were few or no women’s sports? I also believe it is my experience as an athlete that helps me be more adept at sports photography. I naturally have the rhythm of the game programmed in my head, and I think it translates into the types of shots that I get.
So whatever your opinion maybe be on the specifics of Title IX, I believe that it opened up opportunities that I might not have had otherwise, and had a hugely positive impact on my life.