Why High School Sports Teams Matter For Girls

Cleats and sneakers are going to be the new shoes of choice for high school girls in New York over the next few years: According to WeNews, the New York Department of Education has vowed to add almost 500 new sports teams, the majority of them female, to the New York school system over the next four years. The rollout comes in response to a questionnaire students were asked to complete last year in accordance with Title IX, the federal law mandating that all schools with public funding provide equal education opportunities, regardless of gender, sports included. The survey found that many female students didn't find equal athletic opportunities in the NY school system; a subsequent complaint was filed by the National Women's Law Center against 12 school systems across the country, New York City public schools included, for violating Title IX. But there's good news to arise out of all this: Over the next four years, New York's DOE will add nearly 500 new teams, with the goal to have "full parity between male and female athletic participation," according to New York Department of Education Deputy Press Secretary Jason FInk, by the 2019-2020 school year.

The importance of girls having more athletic opportunities in school isn't just for legal purposes. As a former athlete, I know first hand how having an opportunity to play sports in school can shape who you are as a person. My sport of choice was softball. From the time I was 5 until I was 19, I spent every summer weekend and the majority of weekday nights with a glove on my hand covered in sweat, dirt, and bad tan lines.

At times, we hated it. Waking up every Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m. to drive an hour to play four games in a day. But once we'd start lacing up our cleats, we'd become different people. Any grogginess we'd felt in the backseat of our parents' minivans disappeared, and we weren't just girls anymore, or just teenagers or daughters — we were athletes. Playing this sport taught us how to work together to win, how to develop relationships and a family that had nothing to do with DNA, and how to fight for something with confidence. We weren't conscience about how our bodies looked, just how they worked. Sure, we'd complain about our tan lines — but we'd brag about our bruises. Being an athlete as a teenage girl meant that for once, our worth didn't come from our appearance, but from our skills. As awkward as I was in my high school hallway with my jelly bracelets and braces, I was equally as confident on the field.

I was privileged enough to come from a family that could afford to pay for me to play "club ball" or softball outside of school. For many student athletes, however, this may not be the case. In high school, I played both softball and volleyball with girls who would have loved to pursue their athleticism outside of school, but instead had to help take care of their families or go to work on weekends to save up for college. For some, playing in school may be the only opportunity they'll ever have to play an organized competitive sport. Being an athlete can get girls into college, build their self-esteem, and keep them out of trouble.

That's why I'm so excited to hear about the addition of a whopping 500 new teams, so many of which are for girls, as part of the public school system. I just hope New York has enough hair ties to go around.

Images: An An S. Arto, B. Wendall Jones/Flickr