The National Women's Law Center is hosting a Rally for Girls' Sports today, something I'm really happy to take part in. According to the Center's site, "Across the web, bloggers, tweeters and Facebook users are raising their voices in celebration of the far-reaching benefits of athletics participation for girls." If you're on Twitter, you can follow conversation there with the hashtag #Rally4Girls. The Center is compiling blog posts and stories here, which will be updated throughout the day.
I'd like to share my story of participating in sports when I was younger. Except what I took part in isn't a recognized sport, per se: I was on my school's dance team. From sixth grade through my senior year of high school, I danced at pep rallies, football games, basketball games and took part in numerous parades and competition. It was a lot of time and work, especially all through high school. We worked with the marching band in high school, so we attended every marching band practice and band camp. We attended dance camp every summer. Our team wasn't seasonal, as many sports are -- it lasted all year, even over the summer, with practices, performances and competitions. And yes, we competed. We competed as part of the marching band, and we competed at dance events all over our state and beyond.
And I loved every single second of it all.
Being part of this team defined my teenage years probably more than any other singular experience. I was able to spend hours and hours with such a great group of girls (about 30-40 of them, depending on the year) who were so dedicated to what we were doing and to each other. We did have tryouts for the team, so not everyone who wanted to take part could (unlike when I ran track in junior high school and anyone who wanted to could be part of the team, even me who can't run for anything), but even with having tryouts we ended up with a pretty diverse group of girls ... and that was so great for me, a white girl who grew up in a fairly white neighborhood. It instantly broadened my mind and my experiences.
That was hardly the only benefit of being on this team, though. I learned what making a commitment means. I learned about being a leader -- I was an officer my junior year and captain of the team my senior year -- and how different people respond to different kinds of encouragement and criticism. I was active, all the time. Practicing dance four to five times a week for months on end kept me healthy and flexible (oh, to have the flexibility now that I had then!). The competitions kept me motivated; I always wanted us to win, as did all the other girls, and that helped drive us even when we were exhausted. But even when we didn't win, we were learning that sometimes you have to just tip your hat to the team that did, because they deserved it.
Being part of the team even motivated me in other areas of my life. I had a job from the time I was 15 until I graduated, and of course I had homework. Juggling the team, work and school wasn't always a walk in the park, but I made it work and in the process learned about time management and prioritizing.
But the best part of it was the camaraderie. The girls on the team became my best friends. How could they not? We did things together like spend 21 hours on a bus on our way to a week-long trip Florida, where we competed, marched in the Citrus Bowl parade, marched through Epcot, spent an entire day at Disney World and spent New Year's Eve together at Sea World. And then spent another 20 hours on a bus on the way home. Some of the girls were on the team with me from sixth grade on, and others only for a year or two. I met so many great people this way, people who I might never have had class with or people from other grades I might never have hung out with otherwise. Example: When I was a senior, one of my favorite teammates was a sophomore -- what were the chances I would have been friends with her without being teammates?
I am really grateful for my experience. At the time, I thought it was "normal." But now, all these years later, I realize just how many people did not have good high school experiences. I was lucky. I did. And it was because of the dance team and people on it. I know that a dance team isn't considered a "proper" sport, but I do think my experiences translate to what many girls on "proper" sports teams go through. I can't even imagine what my high school experience would have been like if I hadn't been part of that team. And all of this is to say that every girl deserves that experiences, should she want it. It can be life changing.
The National Women's Law Center has all kinds of resources about Title IX. (For those unfamiliar with Title IX, it was passed in 1972 and it states "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.") I would especially recommend checking out their article "Debunking the Myths About Title IX and Athletics." And it's not too late to take part in Rally for Girls' Sports; you can sign up here.