I love women’s soccer, but I usually don’t like to watch it. It just stings too much that my generation didn’t have the chance to play for a national team. Today was the exception. I finally watched…and the U.S. women won gold!
I’ve been working on my book this evening and happened to read over a soccer section. I was part of a group that lobbied for the creation of the a girls’ high school soccer team in my hometown of Newtown, Connecticut in the early 1980s. The group worked for years to answer the barrage of questions that were intended to discourage us. Did girls really want to play? Where was there an available field when the boys were using all the fields at the high school? Who would coach the team? Where would the money for the team come from?
After many years of effort to gain both funding and political support, the fate of our team rested in the hands of the Board of Education, who would vote on whether to fund the team. The meeting was packed and the parents and players both expressed their support for the team. When all the voices had been heard, including mine, the Board members briefly debated the topic themselves. When the Chairman of the Board of Education declared that he “couldn’t support girls playing soccer, because it would take away from boys playing football,” I thought we may have lost. Fortunately, more progressive thinking prevailed, and the team gained the Board’s support by one vote. We fielded our first high school girls’ soccer team in 1983 as a junior varsity team, and moved it to the varsity level in 1984.
I’d like to give credit for the team’s creation to the team members, their parents, the athletic director, pro-team Board members, and the businesses community that supported us. They deserve the credit for the success of the grass-roots effort. But, the fact of the matter is that TITLE IX provided a powerful incentive. Had the Board rejected the team’s creation, they would have found themselves in a world of legal hurt. At the time, Newtown was not in compliance with the 1972 Equal Opportunity in Education Act, funding one more team for boys than for girls. It just took one person to point that out, my mother.
My mother was a seasoned politician, had served on the Board of Education herself, and knew how to organize people to achieve a goal. She was the political ring-leader of the girls’ soccer effort, whether she would ever acknowledge herself in that role or not. She had talked to the parents, school leaders, and Board members to convince them to support the team. When it came to fund-raising, she solicited support from the business community and made sure that the team members were out in front with our tin cups. The Connecticut National Bank and Bob Tendler Reality both wrote checks for $100. I was in awe!
On the night of the vote, Mom waited in the car, feeling it inappropriate for a former Board of Education member to bully the current Board members. She may have been outside in the parking lot, but I’m sure the Board members felt her presence. The grass roots effort had provided answers and solutions to all the political roadblocks, but the threat of a TITLE IX lawsuit was much more ominous. My mother would have pulled that trigger if needed, but only as a last resort.
I didn’t get a chance to play 4-years of varsity soccer due to my age. I played college in soccer, but always felt like I missed out on high school glory. If I ever expressed my disappointment to my mother, she reminded me that our long political struggle wasn’t for me. It was for the next generation of girls. Those girls have now won Olympic gold, several times.
I’m writing the Newtown girls’ soccer story. For the first time, I think that a memoir may be as much about the past as it is about the future.