Happy Birthday Title IX

Forty years ago, in the face of resistance and controversy, Title IX of the Education Amendments banned sex discrimination in schools. Some argue that it impacted women’s life more than the right to vote.

“No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”   June 23, 1972

That bill mandated equal opportunities in education without mentioning the word sport, yet athletics may be where it had the greatest influence. Since then high school female participation in competitive sports has increased by 900% and in college by 450%.

Stay tuned,  join me  Saturday for the 40th anniversary celebration of Title IX !

Cross-Country Skiing in Switzerland Precarious for a Flatlander from the Snow Belt

If you grow up in Switzerland, skiing is a birthright. Like riding a bike, no one forgets how to do it. Forget the thrill of school closing for inclement weather. Here we have the ultimate snow day! We even bus kindergarteners up in the mountains for skiing during regular school days and better yet have a ski week vacation in February.

cross-country skiing in the mountains

cross-country skiing in the mountains

No one here can believe I don’t ski even though I grew up in the Snow Belt.

Maybe if I learned to ski when I was a child, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Where I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois, only the wealthy could afford to fly halfway across the continent to the nearest mountain.

Besides, no American coach in his or her right mind, would ever condone skiing for a star hoopster. A teammate and I broke training one season and attempted to ski on a golf course on campus where the highest elevation was a two-foot bunny hill on the back nine. Heck, I still fell down.

I am not afraid of heights, but I am downright speed phobic. Anytime the velocity picks up, I envision my previous accidents, flying over my bicycle handlebars on a hill in Germany or careening out the window of an air born car off an autoroute in France.

I still might enjoy skiing if my back never cracked, my knees could bend or I had a solid base to stand on. Just try balancing on a two inch by 6 foot slabs with bad feet. With my high arches and ankle pronation, I might remain upright if I skied barefoot and hung on by my claw toes. Strong thigh muscles, able to hold the squat position also help, but I lost those when I quit doing defensive slides back in the seventies.

Ah the great irony of life! In youth, when I was nowhere near a mountain, my greatest dream was to alpine ski; now in middle age I live at the foot of the Alps yet break out in hives just looking at the slopes. However to appease Le Frenchman, an avid skier extraordinaire, I don my skis once a winter. But in the mountains, cross-country skiing is a misnomer. It should be called up and down skiing and the only thing worse than sailing 25 miles an hour on sticks, is flailing at top speed downward on a curve!

Oups !!!

Oups !!!

Luckily on groomed trails in the mountains, they strategically prop bright red, two-inch thick, gym mats against trees at the bottom of curving slopes.

Hey, I learned to drive in Illinois, I am no dummy. As soon as I see the red warning sign in the distance, I stop, remove skis and proceed with caution.  Then I put away my gear for another year.

Minnesota Lynx First WNBA Championship-One of Many Firsts

On Oct 7, 11,543 fans watched the Minnesota Lynx win their first WNBA Championship by sweeping the Atlanta Dream. And over 15,000 lined the streets of Minneapolis to welcome them back home to the Target Center. http://www.wnba.com/lynx/

It was a celebration of many firsts starting with the first win for a Minnesotan professional team in 20 years. The first time in WNBA history  that two women coaches met in the final. Lynx Coach of the Year, Cheryl Reeve, faced off against Marynell Meadors who led the Atlanta Dream to back to back final appearances (Only once before has a woman head coach won the finals when in 2004, Anne Donovan coached the championship Seattle Storm).

Laurel Richie, the first African American woman to be president of  U.S. professional league, presented the championship trophy to a team that hadn’t won a play off game since its inception in 1999.

I am a long distance Lynx fan, not only because half of my family live in Minneapolis-St.Paul, but also because the first WNBA game I saw was in 2003 at the Target Center where my daughter caught a T-shirt, printed with Lynx logo, New Game in Town. I was thrilled to see Lisa Leslie, LA Sparks, smooth moves to the hoop. But what made the greatest lasting imprint was the image of my thirteen-year-old son, waiting in line for five-time Olympian, Theresa Edwards’ autograph. I never thought I’d see the day a boy would request a female basketball player’s signature.

This past summer, Nathalie and I saw the Lynx play LA again. This time, the Lynx dominated, in large part due, to their  depth. Whether it was Whalen or Wiggings dishing assists at point, Seimone Augustus (MVP) or Maya Moore (Rookie of the Year) flying at wing, or Taj McWilliams-Franklin or Rebekka Brunsen clearing the boards at center, no matter who was on the court, they jelled.

Fans don’t realize that it has taken decades for women to be accepted in the macho world of pro basketball. However, in Minneapolis, women’s pro basketball is not a new game in town. Three decades ago, in the first women’s professional basketball league (WBL), my franchise, Washington D.C. Metros, went bust mid season, but the Minnesota Fillies were one of only three teams to last the span of the WBL 1978-1981. Unfortunately, back then, the media found women’s basketball newsworthy only when linked to scandal. In 1981, the Fillies became the talk of town when a player was murdered, and when the team promised paychecks that never materialized, walked off the court ten minutes before tip off  before a full house in Chicago.

The contemporary player that impressed me most was Mama Taj, a steady, calm, solid presence. My daughter, beat up in the paint in college ball, wonders how could a post player survive the banging on the boards for over a decade?  Like Theresa Edwards role in the foundation of the league, Mama Taj, with 12 years experience in the league could be called the grand dame of the game.

Minnesotans, ever loyal, love their Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves, but it was the ladies that put the Twin Cities back on the map.  The greatest appeal about the women’s game is not the slam dunking, showboating of the NBA, but the passing, teamwork and cohesiveness.  Families -mothers and sons, fathers and daughters -bond over basketball.

The WNBA promotes fitness, families, and education, the same values advocated in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area with their abundance of lakes, bike trails, walking paths, and family- orientated communities.

Thumbs up to the first African American pro league  president, a first WNBA championship for Minnesota, and a first all female coaching final. It’s all good!

What really blew my mind was that for the first time the women were feted at the Vikings football game in front of a crowd of 60,000, including my son and brother-in-law.  In a gesture so frequent in the women’s game, the Lynx wearing purple jerseys, cheered the Vikings to their first victory of the season!  The Lynx have arrived… New Game In Town… No More!

Illinois’ Sterling Girls Capture Little League World Champion Crown

Yoopie! Take me out to the ball game. I am going to jump on the bandwagon here and give a shout out to the folks back home in Sterling and their championship team. After all the gals of my generation helped build that wagon 40 years ago when Title IX passed into legislation, leveling the playing field by mandating equal opportunities (including sports) for girls in public education.

I applaud those pony-tailed girls with crooked grins on cusp of adolescence who whooped the world in a boys’ game. In my day, Little League was a private, male club that we never dreamed of one day entering.

Sterling vs Waco Texas

Sterling vs Waco Texas http://www.softballworldseries.com/

I admire the pictures of those cute girls in baseball jerseys and can’t help but notice that the names of the three father coaches, matched those of three players. The coach/athlete, dad/daughter duo was an anomaly back in the day when my dad first taught my sisters and me to field grounders. Now it is the norm. Without a second thought, today’s dads fight to make sure their girls’ get their names on front page.

I have been out of the country too long – I had no idea that a Girls’ Little League World Championship existed. Yet, these little ladies are strutting their stuff on a Field of Dreams. « Today Little League, in existence since first in 1947 (for boys), is the largest youth sport organization with more than 25,000 softball teams and 360,000 participants worldwide. The program includes divisions of play for girls ages 5 to 18, which culminates at four Softball World Series tournaments for international competition and friendship.” http://www.littleleague.org/learn/about/divisions/softball-girls.htm

Hats off to Sterling, the Central Regional Championship Team, for winning 19 straight games and  defeating Waco, Texas in the world series final in Portland Oregon. This year the event, established for girls in 1974, drew clubs from Puerto Rico, Philippines, Canada and Italy, as well as Texas, California, Oregon, New York and North Carolina.

I was surprised to find out that teams existed abroad, yet the European, Middle East and African regional champs were from Italy this year, from Poland last year, and from Germany, the year before that. The American game has gone international. Though at my  school in Switzerland, I still teach softball as a ‘foreign’ sport because cricket (for men only) is considered the premier bat and ball game.

So yessiree,  take me out to the ball park. Give me some peanuts and crackerjacks and I don’t care if I never get back for it’s one two three, hip hip hurray for the Sterling Girls Little League World Champions. Thanks for putting my hometown on the globe in a grand slam effort inspiring girls worldwide.

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Celebrating Title IX’s Anniversary with Senior Games Gold in Basketball

Though I never reached my goal to play basketball for Team USA in the Olympics,  I have thrown elbows in good company.  I played  hoops for Illinois State alongside the late Charlotte Lewis, a silver medalist in 1976 , the first year women’s basketball became an Olympic event. In summer camp at ISU, I coached Olympian Cathy Boswell, a 1984 gold medalist. And June 11-30,  2011 during the Senior National Games in Houston Texas,  my former co-coach and BFF, Tina Quick, won a gold in 3 on 3.

In 1987,  the first National Olympic game debuted in St. Louis with 2,500 participants.  Today the  National Senior Games Association, (http ://www.nsga.com/ ) Summer Games drew 15,000 athletes, who competed in 18 sports in everything from shuffleboard to  triathlon.  And get this, the youngest competitor was fifty!

molly and the miracles

Tina, Quick, Barbara Cherecwich, Kris Krablin, June Walton, Megan Ladd

NSGA is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating active adults to lead healthy lifestyles. With 50 being the new 30 never has the time been more right for women to stay in shape. And nobody trains like Tina, the fifty-five year old blond firecracker, with Native American blood, who runs circles around women decades younger. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to play organized ball growing up, she never missed a beat in adulthood, challenging men in gyms around the globe. Seven years ago, she repatriated to the United States where she met up with the Massachusetts Miracles.

« We went from being the team that couldn’t win a game, to becoming team to beat, » Tina said.  « Everyone, except me, played college »

The Miracles is comprised of first generation Title IX athletes, who like myself, became pioneers during the infancy of the women’s game when law mandated equal opportunities for women in education and sport.  June Walton, the second all-time leading scorer at her alma mater, Morgan State University, also played in Venezuela and England. Kris Krablin, the only athlete to be named MVP every season, was a Hall of Famer at St. Lawrence University.  In 1979, the first year an All State College team was selected, Barbara Cherecwich became a first team All Stater from Worcester State College.

The Miracles won the state competition to qualify and then swept 7 rounds in the games. My five-foot- five friend played early on in the tournament, but for the finals she insisted, « You big girls go do your stuff – I’ll take over on the sideline. »  The only team without a manager, Tina, then went onto coach her Miracles to victory capturing the gold in the  50+ age category.

« Like  at the  Olympics, we had an opening ceremony, parade of competitors,  athlete’s village and medal platform. The Olympic Torch, carried across Texas, was lit by a 100 year old man. »

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tina walked off the podium with not only a gold, but also a stash of giveaways – pill boxes,  jump ropes, energy drinks, cool bands, health tips and other  prizes. But according to Tina, the best part of the games was the great ambiance, team camaraderie and support from friends and families .

« One lady, a seventy year old, stopped me and asked if she could touch my medal.»

When my pro basketball career ended abruptly due to a car accident, my goal to shoot hoops into my sunset years never materialized. In time, I learned to let go and share in the joy of others’ dreams.  Nobody cheered louder than me for my former athletes competing in European clubs, for my little sister, playing in a 5 on 5 league in Minneapolis or  for my buddy in Boston, who just came home with the gold.

Apparently seniors are alive and well.  The Summer Games, NSGA’s signature event, has become one of the biggest multi-sport happenings on the planet; my friend Tina could be the spokesperson.

During the festivities, Gloria Gaynor,  belted out, « I will survive. »

I slapped my knee, tickled pink and echoed her battle cry,

« Go granny go ! »