I distinctly remember sitting in my 6th grade homeroom class as we went around one by one telling our classmates what we want to be when we grow up. I was last so I had a long time to think about it as I listened to the other kids answers. Lots of boys wanted to be football players, baseball players and basketball players. I wanted to be an athlete but there weren’t any teams for girls, all I could think of was dancing and I learned the hard way that wasn’t a good fit for me.
As a kid I needed an outlet for all of my energy so my mom signed me up for dance classes. A short very muscular build didn’t quite look right in the black leotard and don’t even mention the pink tights that I refused to wear. My dance teacher would say, no Katie, do it GRACEFULLY, no no GRACEFULLY. Katie, no no stop clomping, GRACEFULLY! I don’t know what gracefully is, but I’m quite certain I never mastered it. I won’t forget the hopeless look on my teacher’s face when I asked her how do we know who wins at the end of the dance? I was made for competing, and that’s all I understood.
So as the classroom discussion on future careers came around to me I looked up and said the same thing all the other girls had said, that I wanted to be a teacher. But it wasn’t true. I wanted to be a basketball player. I spent hours in my backyard shooting hoops and wishing there was a way, despite the fact that there weren’t any girls basketball teams in my area. Sports for girls has been a side dish, an optional add on to become well rounded while we focus on whatever our real talent was. But what if my talent is sports? Things have improved since my experience in the early 80’s. There are many more options for girls to keep competing through college, and even high school athletics are taken more seriously. But if you’re not training for the Olympics, sports for girls is still an add on.
Until now. I picked up a lacrosse stick as a young kid and fell completely and hopelessly in love with the sport as a high school student. But I knew there wasn’t much I could do with it, that after high school I could play in college but then what? Now all of the little girls who sit in a classroom discussing what they want to be when they grow up don’t have to settle for whatever they are being told are the main options they have to choose from. They can dream bigger than that, they don’t have to have boundaries and limits or be told that their athletic abilities are nothing but side dishes.
Welcome to 2016. The year of the draft for the first Women’s Professional Lacrosse team has begun. Through the United Women’s Lacrosse League, and Playitforward.org, 4 teams, 4 incredible coaches, and an approaching training camp, the luckiest lacrosse hopefuls to grace lacrosse history are now gearing up to secure their spot. Despite my denial, I may have missed my window to join in the fun of playing, but I can’t help but feel the excitement of getting to see it happen. Every little girl in America has just been given a gift – lacrosse player or not – because this is opening a door to a future that has not been an option to any of us before.
If you’ve been involved in female sports then you’ve likely run into the same walls I’ve been slamming into for the last 16 years – struggling for fields, for funds, for fans, for support, for equipment, and for our administrators to take us seriously. Have you ever noticed that most girls’ sports teams are already discussing what to do if it fails before it even begins?
This opportunity for professional women’s lacrosse needs us to come together and ensure that the evolution in women’s athletics continues. We must show it can be sustained and that we do, in fact, want these options to remain in place for our future generations. For all of the female athletes out there, for the dads with daughters, for the boys with moms, for anyone who’s ever known that incredibly gifted female athlete, it’s time to support what is so long overdue, the opportunity for an athlete to use their talent beyond college. For every female athlete that came before us that ended up sitting behind a desk with their powerful calves, guns of steel, cat-like agility, and on field command going unused in competition and wishing they could get back out there, lets pay it forward! Let’s build a whole new world of opportunities for our daughters who love the game, run by and owned by women who love the game!
My favorite part of this event in history, is that my own daughter, in 7th grade, can now sit in her classroom and proudly say, she wants to play lacrosse when she grows up. And if she works hard, she has the opportunity to do it!
For more on the United Women’s Lacrosse League, go to www.unitedwlax.com