Forgive me, Lisa Spangler, if I wax wistfully today. You’ve been on my mind the last few days after I read about your role as a starting linebacker on a local high school football team.
Why wistful, you ask? Well, Lisa, it’s like this. I am getting old. And getting old doesn’t always mean content. You get to an age where you look back and say, “Ya know, if this or that happened, things may have just turned out a bit differently.”
I could list at least a dozen events in my life where, due to fear or lack of self-confidence, I did not realize an aspiration. But that would be too depressing right now, girlfriend. Let’s focus on the one at hand.
I had a number of years of Little League softball under my belt and eagerly looked forward to playing for my high school team under our new girls’ coach. Miss Hawkey brought a new confidence to girls interested in athletics, i.e., tomboys. Gregarious, vivacious and extremely athletic, Miss Hawkey introduced us to off-the-regular-menu PE items like archery, field hockey and trampoline. We thrived under her encouragement with a new feeling of self-confidence. We all hoped our collective enthusiasm would mean more promotion of school sports for girls.
But, all the self-confidence in the world would not change school norms. Crushed, I learned the school would not fund a girl’s softball team.
The National Organization for Women was making noise in those days about the lack of equal opportunity for women in many areas of academia, not the least of those, sports. I heard enough of this through the news on TV to give me the courage one day to approach the high school boy’s baseball coach in the hall at school. Would he give me a chance to even try out for the team?
He knew me from my hanging around during their practices. Though I didn’t say anything, I knew from watching I could hold my own with most of those guys. All I wanted was a chance. Would he, like your coach, Lisa, give me a fair shake, come to see me as just another undersized ballplayer? I asked, and he looked at me askance.
“I need some big, strong BOYS.”
Crestfallen, but not discouraged, I asked again a few days later at practice. Same answer.
So, Lisa, there ya go. I’m not going to say, “You don’t know how lucky you are,” because that would make me sound bitter. And I don’t feel bitter. I think it’s awesome you get to play the game you love so much. I have tried to imagine what it must feel like to be you, just putting yourself out there on the field, getting it done and taking names. I imagine it feels fantastic.
I’m happy things have changed to where we can watch women’s sports on ESPN. Now it’s commonplace to read the coverage of local girls breaking records and leading their teams to victories at all levels.
But heck, in 1971 I couldn’t even convince then-Columbian sports editor Ralph Fisher to cover girl’s volleyball even after it had become a sanctioned intramural sport, with district-wide competition. He said no one would be interested.
So surely you can see, Lisa, why I feel wistful when I reflect upon your story. The barriers have been breached. Just a couple years too late.