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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

A Day to Celebrate: Happy National Girls & Women in Sports Day!

Today is February 3rd, 2021.

For most of us, it’s a typical Wednesday. We woke up, had our morning cup of coffee, got ready for work or school, and are now taking our lunch break while scrolling through social media. On what seems like a typical day for most, for me, this is a day where I pause and reflect. I do so because today is National Girls & Women in Sports Day.

A day dedicated to celebrating girls and women participating in sports, being active, and realizing their potential, a luxury not granted to a lot of women before Title IX in 1972.

Pre-Title IX, sport opportunities for women were few and far between. While I won’t go into a history lesson, I will say sport opportunities for girls and women have come a long way. One of my former graduate school professors at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Mary Jo Kane, would always say “in the matter of 40+ years, girls and women went from hoping there is a team, to hoping they make the team”. 

To me, this phrase can extend beyond sport as over the past few decades women have “made” it in a variety of different ways. In sport, women have made massive strides forward in terms of opportunity and equity. A monumental moment in our own sport was when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes in 1973 solidifying a place at the table for women’s professional tennis. Now in 2021, female tennis players are using their voice, as we saw Naomi Osaka named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year when she used her platform at last year’s U.S. Open to shine a light on racial injustice. 

Other notable moments in recent years for women in sport are Sarah Fuller becoming the first woman to score in a Power 5 football game; the Miami Marlins hiring Kim Ng, who became the first woman and first Asian American General Manager in Major League Baseball; Jennifer King, who will become the first Black woman to coach full time in the NFL; and Sarah Thomas, who will be the first woman to officiate in a Super Bowl in a few short days. 

Outside of sport, women are making strides forward as well, with the most recent example being the first woman and first woman of color to be sworn in as Vice President of the United States last month. In and out of sport, girls and women have shown they’re a force. These amazing women are all now a part of teams which 40+ years ago were non-existent. While there is still a long way to go, today I ask us all to take a few minutes to celebrate these victories. 

When thinking about the teams I’ve “made”, I cannot help but smile about all of the opportunities I’ve been presented with to get me to where I am. 

I smile because of all the little girls I have the opportunity to meet and influence during the summer when 1,500 campers come through our doors. 

I smile because of my fellow female coworkers who inspire me to continue with the work I do and provide me with a support system to lean on. 

I smile because of my opportunity to help young men develop as both people and tennis players with my role as an Assistant Coach for the Gustavus men’s tennis team, giving me an opportunity to be a female role model for them, which comes few and far between for male athletes.

And finally, I smile because I’ve found my passion. A passion for advocating for girls and women in sport, a passion for coaching, a passion for persisting in the face of adversity when working in a field which does not always make it easy for women to excel. It is these teams I am a part of, that have helped shape me (and continue to shape me) into the person I am today. 

Kinzee at age 2

I’m not sure the little girl holding a tennis racket wearing a lion king shirt, 24 years ago, knew what was to come and the opportunities that would be granted to her along the way. I’m not sure she knew what a privilege it was to be holding that racket and to be able to participate in a sport she loved. Back then I was a little girl who was just trying to keep her footing while swinging a racket as big as her and simply hoping to make contact with the ball. Today, I am a woman who has hope for future generations and hope that soon it will not be groundbreaking that a woman is the GM of a Major League Baseball team or groundbreaking that a woman is the Vice President (or President) of the United States. 

I see this hope in my 13 year old cousin who constantly questions why she, as a girl, is treated a certain way. I see it in my 2 year old nephew who loves to grab his mini racket and play tennis or other sports with “Auntie Kinee”. And finally, I see it in the little girl who 24 years ago was only trying to make contact with the tennis ball. She’s grown, failed, learned, succeeded, cried, laughed, and experienced almost every emotion possible. But through all of that, she’s persisted and she’s made it to where she wants to be. She is going to continue to grow, learn and I’m sure will fail at times, but I can guarantee she is always going to give it her all.

So, to the women who came before me who paved the way I say, thank you! 

To the women who’ve been on my “team” along the way I say, I couldn’t do it without you! 

And to the little girl wondering if she can “make” it I say, absolutely! Your voice matters. You may experience a lot of ups and downs along the way, but whenever you are feeling like giving up, remember all of the women who came before you who persevered in the face of adversity. And I ask when thinking about the next barrier you want to break in order to make the team, know that all of those women are all with you, giving you a TLC air-five and cheering you on every step of the way.


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