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Why This Long Acronym – NGWSD – is So Important

In sports, our lives are littered with acronyms. What is an acronym, you ask?? Like I would explain to a 10-year old, it’s when you use a bunch of letters together as initials, instead of using a long string of words. For instance, how often do you see Women’s National Basketball Association written in a document? You don’t. Instead, you see WNBA. Other examples in the sports world are NFL, MLB and NBA. Closer to home, we now refer to the Fever’s wondrous arena as BLF, short for Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which used to be CFH.

So what’s this talk about acronyms?

My topic today is to discuss NGWSD which, whenever I write it, I have to do it slowly to make sure I’m saying it right and get the initials in the right order!

National Girls and Women in Sports Day is now celebrated annually, usually on February 1, to recognize the great advances and growth in female sports participation in America. For the younger generation, they may ask, “why do you celebrate that?” The reason is because, for many generations, mine included, sports for girls and women were not always accepted. In fact, when you listen to Fever coach Lin Dunn, you realize that sports for women weren’t even allowed. Can you imagine that?

In my lifetime, I have always known girls to have opportunities in sports, at least through high school. Heck, my dad even coached high school girls basketball teams when I was a kid. But until I attended college, I hadn’t realized that women really didn’t have the same opportunities. When I reached University of the Pacific in 1983, I began recognizing the differences. By then, 11 years after the passing of Title IX, I was becoming aware of advances and growth by women’s sports teams. But as a student in the sports information office, and working with the women’s basketball and volleyball teams, I discovered that the histories of those sports programs were minimal. Varsity teams had only begun in the ’70s. Sometimes, records hadn’t been kept even 5-6 years prior. I was often stunned by this, compared to the decades of history for our men’s programs. The players weren’t always incredibly athletic. Travel budgets, uniforms and facilities often were largely inferior to their counterparts on men’s teams. Indeed, the effects of Title IX were only beginning to take shape and our women’s programs were literally being constructed right before my eyes.

I have worked with men’s and women’s teams in my now nearly 30-year career in sports media relations. To me, sport is sport. I suppose I get that from my father who, like I mentioned, coached boys and girls teams interchangeably at the high school level. I have worked with national championship women’s teams as well as an NCAA champion men’s team. Now, in 2012, I can tell you that resources for women’s teams are closer than ever. The talent in girls and women’s sports grows significantly every year. The result is that the college game continues to grow and it is eventually reflected here in the WNBA where the rookie class each season becomes more and more extraordinary.

When Tamika Catchings came into the league and won the 2002 Rookie of the Year award, there were those who called her “the next generation.” And for over 10 seasons, she has exceled at that same level and put herself among the elite players in the world. But even she will tell you that she is not the most skilled player in the league anymore. You have the likes of Candace Parker and last year’s ROY Maya Moore. In 2013, the WNBA will welcome Brittany Griner. The talent level continues expanding and that is a direct reflection of greater opportunities afforded by Title IX legislation that required public institutions to provide equal opportunity and resources for women, or risk federal funding.

Title IX was passed in 1972 and so this year, too, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of its passing. When you realize that Lin Dunn began coaching in 1970, you realize the hardships she has had to endure while embarking on a career even before most schools actually had varsity teams! Her own alma mater, Tennessee-Martin, didn’t have a team when she went to school. She campaigned and complained and took her interests to the university administration and, finally, the year after she graduated, UT-Martin began its first varsity program for women’s basketball. By that time, Lin was beginning the program at nearby Austin Peay, but the hardships of the era were the same nationwide. It is perhaps the greatest example of why she is so widely regarded as a pioneer for this sport – and why she has been inducted into numerous halls of fame within the past few years.

On Tuesday night, Coach Dunn welcomed a group of young girls from Girls, Inc. of Shelbyville. The girls visited the Fever locker room before attending a Pacers win over Utah. She talked with the girls and shared with them the stories of driving her team to games in a beaten down station wagon; and buying uniforms that would be used for volleyball and basketball, alike. It was an educational experience for the girls and an opportunity to celebrate the growth of female sports participation.

For a great number of our WNBA players, playing professional basketball was not an option when they were in high school. There wasn’t a professional league through most of the 1990s. But now, thankfully, that has changed. Girls can grow up and attend WNBA games. They can compete on their own. They can earn a college scholarship and they can work hard and prepare themselves with aspirations of making a career of their own. Women can also coach. They can aspire to be broadcasters, owners, general managers or even work in sports media relations. Opportunities for girls and women have grown immensely and we’re only now beginning to see the impact of that growth.

What it means to me is that, whenever you see the long awkward acronym NGWSD —- GIVE THANKS, even if you can’t remember what it stands for.

KM

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