Thursday, July 17, 2003

Title IX: Teaching girls more than just a game

Laura Pulfer
Not exactly a disinterested party, I was hunched on the bleachers screaming like a banshee.

We fans - parents and grandparents - were shouting things like, "That's OK, honey, nice try." When the batter whiffed - taking a cut at the ball that missed it by about a foot - as one voice, the stands cheered, "Good swing." And when the ball bounced right past the shortstop who was braiding the second baseman's hair, we pretended not to notice.

One player rapped the bat smartly against her plastic cleats, and I couldn't help noticing that her socks were not regulation. She wore lace anklets. This softball game was for girls in the first and second grades, but I do not think the scene is gender specific. It is age specific. Some of these girls will be hitting the ball over the back fence soon, wearing ribbed athletic socks and fierce expressions.

Because, given the chance, girls like to win.

And since 1972, girls have had an equal right to take a cut at the ball. Title IX orders schools that want public money to give the public's sons and daughters the same athletic opportunities. In the 31 years since its passage, thousands of girls have gone to college on athletic scholarships.

My old gym teacher would be shocked. She knew if we worked up a sweat, we'd expire on the spot and probably be unfit for our real job - childbearing. She threw us off the basketball court when it was time for the real team - the boys - to practice. Athletic girls were told, be cheerleaders. She's probably at a very ladylike rest home, where they won't let her on the shuffleboard court when the men want to play.

We missed out on a lot more than the chance to play a game.

"You learn teamwork. Like in a job, you see that sometimes you can't do it by yourself," says Jen Frey. Jen, 19, and her teammates leave Monday to compete in the 2003 Snickers U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships in Germantown, Md. Two years ago, the Kolping Premier Ben-Gals, some of whom have been teammates since kindergarten, were third in the nation. Mike Mutchler, their original coach, recruited the brother-sister team of Theresa and Greg Hirschauer when "he had taught us everything he knew," according to Jen.

Theresa, athletic director at Cincinnati Country Day School, played soccer and softball at Brown University, and calls it "a real pleasure to coach these girls. They're just loaded with talent."

The young women come from all over the city, most just home for the summer from colleges such as Ohio State and Emory. Jen, a Mercy High School grad, plays soccer for Kent State and is studying special education. Dyslexic, she says she remembers how it felt to struggle. "Sometimes I'd think, 'Maybe I'm not good at school, but I'm good at soccer.' " Now she's good at both. Maybe there's a connection.

The Bush administration last Friday decided to clarify Title IX rules, but not change them, as many had feared. In a letter to schools, the Education Department reinforced the legislation that has paved the way for girls who are learning something even more important than how to swing a bat or kick a ball.

They are learning they have the right to play.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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PULFER: Teaching girls more than just a game
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