An undefeated season meets a singular phenom who could drop a shot from mid-court.  March Madness Women’s Final was a three-ring, three-point thriller and we could not look away.  It was legendary play from surefire hall of famers.  Dawn Staley and Caitlin Clark drove to the goal, opposing teams but united in belief of their skill, their discipline and their power.

One fine day in 1891, Dr James Naismith, was lolling about in Springfield, MA trying to think up a sport that one could play in the winter.  His boss, head of the YMCA International Training School, Luther Gulick, gave Naismith 14 days to think up a game to counter the rowdy energies of young men with little to do in snow-bound New England.  Gulick wanted something that required vigorous activity but that did not take the physical toll of the immensely popular game of football.  He wanted an indoor game – way too cold to play anything outside – and that game was to be more skill than brute force.   

Five minutes later Senda Berenson, physical culture director at Smith College, was meeting with Naismith.  Berenson began teaching basketball to her student in hopes the activity would improve their physical health.  Of course, this was the Victorian era so every man jack of an athlete, would-be athlete and plain old misogynist had something negative in comment on this development

Charles Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, co-founder of the International Olympic Committee and known as the father of the modern Olympic Games called women’s basketball “indecent.”    Then again, he also decried women participating in any sport.  He declared that the Olympics with women would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and indecent”.  The “Games”, he said, were created for “the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism” with “female applause as a reward”.    

Oh, give us a break!  Another road to success barricaded by short-sighted males with personas as fragile as a soap bubble.  Unadmitted fear in the male psyche coursed like a heat-seeking missile.  How could men compete with women for the spotlight?  Unimaginable to the dim and unallowable to the ones who recognized reality.

By gosh, they threw everything but that proverbial sink at us.  Scroll back to the 1967 Boston Marathon.  In 1967, women weren’t allowed to officially enter the Boston Marathon, so Kathrine Switzer entered that year as “K.V. Switzer” to hide her gender.  Two miles in, an official tried to eject her from the course. She finished anyway, becoming the first woman to complete the race as an official entrant.  Women weren’t officially allowed to enter the race until 1972. Women’s marathoning wasn’t part of the Olympics until 1984.

And were we glued to the TV in 1973 to watch a tennis match?  We were.  On a September night in Houston, Billie Jean King smashed an ace for women in sports with her defeat of Bobby Riggs, a self-described male chauvinist pig.    King subsequently organized a meeting that led to the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association.  She threatened to boycott the 1973 U.S. Open if male and female champions were not paid the same, which led to the Open becoming the first major tennis tournament to offer equal prize money.

Shoot forward to a few weeks ago, Dawn Staley and Caitlin Clark planted another flag in our craggy climb to recognition and equality.   Unhampered by the “nervous fatigue” warning from starched collar Victorian men.  Bowing to none who forced women’s teams to pay their own way until Title IX, they played.  They played to a packed house of 24M, almost double the audience for NCAA Men.

That skirmish is over, the giant leap taken.  It could not have been without the play of hundreds of women who went before.  I still remember when I played guard in a tunic, a dress; I couldn’t even cross center court and there were six of us.  It was a soft game for people perceived as too soft to play the real thing.

Basketball and the sports arena is but one metaphor for women’s emerging role.  We will bring the full court press.  We will block shots aimed at keeping us subservient.  We will not go back to anything where we are “less than.”   And we will vote to secure our gains and continue our forward advance.

“I figure, if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one.” —Calamity Jane