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Too Late for Me, but. .

Title IX legislation has revolutionized women's athletics over the last 25 years. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in schools or colleges that receive federal funds. Today, nearly eight times as many young women are involved in high school sports as were in 1972. Nearly 120,000 participate in college sports, up from about 35,000 in 1972.

June 21, 1997|PHYLLIS BREWSTER | Phyllis Brewster is a freelance writer who lives in Arcadia

My freshman year in high school was my father's 14th year as the school's basketball coach, and our team--the boys' team--was turning out the best record the school had ever had. At the end of the season, first-stringers sported their letter-sweaters proudly, and their steady girlfriends wore their championship gold basketball charms on necklaces. The year was 1939.

As Coach Smith's daughter, I was wildly, adolescently emotional about basketball games. I cheered frantically at every two points scored, shamelessly booed the referees in calls against our team and cried when we lost. I loved it.

There was, however, a dark side to this basketball glory. Girls' teams were nonexistent. Oh, we played in gym classes, but it was a pathetic version of the real thing. Confined to half of the standard court and limited to two dribbles and two steps in any direction, it was a ridiculous slow-motion proceeding.

Equally dismaying was the fact that, no matter how good a player you were, you never got any recognition. Who was to know? Interscholastic basketball for girls was forbidden.

"Why can't we compete with other schools?" I asked my dad plaintively. He had, in the 1920s, coached both a girls' and a boys' team.

"Competitive basketball was too hard on girls emotionally," was my father's unsatisfactory reply. "They cry when they lose."

"That's stupid," I retorted! Not only that, it was unfair! It was . . . I couldn't find the right words. Years later I would know it as gender inequity.

That, of course, was years before Title IX opened up interscholastic sports competition for women. But for me it was a few more years before the impact of that change reached my emotional center.

It happened on a 1995 visit to my daughter's family in Devils Lake, N.D., where I read in the local paper that the opening game of the high school basketball season--girls' basketball--would be played two days later against West Fargo High School.

Girls' interscholastic high school basketball? I would go!

When I arrived at the athletic center 15 minutes before game time, I found the parking lot filled. Was there something else going on at the same time? As I bought my ticket and worked my way into the gym, I could hardly believe my eyes. More than 300 fans crowded the stands. Band music was blaring over the loud speakers. Cheerleaders were milling around on the sidelines ready to spring into action.

Then, from the side door of the gym, the girls' basketball team burst onto the court, dribbling and passing down the floor, shooting and recovering with all the speed and agility I remembered from the boys' teams of my high school days.

Much to my surprise and chagrin I found that I was crying. From pure joy of projection, I was, for that moment, there on the court with them, dribbling and passing and shooting, fulfilling a dream of 56 years ago.

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