The Reason We Celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day

  • National Girls and Women in Sports Day celebrates athletes and encourages participation.
  • Women have faced many barriers in the athletic world, including in college sports.
  • Title IX played a key role in encouraging female athletes at the college level.
  • The 37th annual celebration will feature events to inspire future athletes.

This February marks the 37th National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD). The annual event celebrates the millions of girls and women involved in sports, including college athletes.

Women’s sports have changed a great deal since the 1980s when the event began. That’s thanks, in part, to the role Title IX played in encouraging female athletes.

Today, the event recognizes the progress women have made while calling for more opportunities and greater equity in sports.

What Is National Girls and Women in Sports Day?

The first National Girls and Women in Sports Day took place in 1987. That year, the first commemoration recognized the Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman, who died in 1986.

As President Ronald Reagan said in his proclamation declaring the first NGWSD, “The history of women in sports is rich and long and has provided millions with an opportunity for growth, development, and the pursuit of challenging goals.”

Since 1987, NGWSD has been an annual event. Organized by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), the day celebrates girls and women involved in sports. It also encourages them to participate in sports and stay active.

As WSF argues, sports can build confidence and leadership skills. And NGWSD recognizes the achievements of women athletes.

The History of Girls and Women in Sports

Women had to fight to play many sports. Back in 1894, an all-women’s tennis tournament pitted the women of Bryn Mawr against their rivals at Vassar, but Vassar called off the tournament. After that, the faculty declared that women students should not play intercollegiate sports.

For years, women’s sports were categorized as recreational, not competitive. Boys and girls played by different rules — for example, women’s basketball banned stealing. Generations of women fought against stereotypes so they could play sports.

The Physical Demands of Sports

In the 19th century, doctors warned that women’s bodies were unsuited for physical exertion.

In his 1873 book Sex in Education, Dr. Edward Clarke warned that women were not physically capable of intense sports. “[B]oth muscular and brain labor must be reduced at the onset of menstruation,” Dr. Clarke said.

Similar ideas persisted long into the 20th century.

“We used to play half-court basketball,” Ann Gordon Bain, quoted in The Harvard Gazette, said of her athletic career at Radcliffe in the 1950s, because men thought “women couldn’t run from one end of the court to the other.”

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon, in spite of an official attempting to shove her out of the race. The Amateur Athletic Union, which governed amateur-level U.S. sports, banned women from running any race that exceeded 1.5 miles until 1971.

Support for Girls and Women in Sports

Women athletes received much less support than men. Bain also remembers being forced to call off a varsity women’s basketball game because the men’s team wanted to practice on the court.

“We hadn’t finished a varsity game, and they said, ‘Sorry, it’s our court.’ So we walked off the court. That’s the way it was in those days.”

According to ESPN, by 1971, the year before Title IX would change college sports, about 30,000 women athletes competed at the college level and just under 300,000 high school girls played sports. In comparison, around 3.7 million high school boys played sports.

Title IX and Women’s Sports

At the college level, Title IX played a major role in transforming women’s sports. The landmark 1972 legislation banned sex discrimination in higher education. And Title IX transformed women’s sports.

In 1971, the 30,000 women in college sports represented a mere 15% of all college athletes. And just 2% of college athletics budgets funded women’s sports. By 2021, women made up 44% of NCAA student athletes.

Yet originally, many legislators weren’t thinking about sports when they voted for Title IX. Women involved in college athletics pushed their institutions to support women athletes to comply with the law. For many colleges, that meant expanding — or sometimes starting — their women’s sports programs.

In the past 50 years, Title IX has increased women’s participation in college athletics. And the legislation’s impact has spread far beyond campuses.

Consider American women at the Olympics. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 1972, female athletes made up about 20% of the U.S. Olympic team. By 2016, women made up more than half of the U.S. Olympic team.

The growth in collegiate sports has also encouraged girls to pursue sports. As Reagan noted in his 1987 proclamation, before Title IX, very few women received scholarships to play college sports. By the 1980s, that number reached 10,000.

The Challenges Facing Women’s Sports Today

In spite of landmark legislation like Title IX, gaps remain in girls’ and women’s sports. As the NCAA Title IX at 50 report points out, women hold just a quarter of NCAA head coach positions. Women’s athletic programs also lag behind men’s programs in funding.

The gap is even larger for women of color. At the leadership level, only 16% of female head coaches are women of color.

And among college athletes, Black women make up less than 5% of college softball, tennis, soccer, and swimming teams, according to NCAA data. Overall, 68% of NCAA female athletes are white women, while 11% are Black women as of 2020-2021.

That problem starts before college. According to a study from the National Women’s Law Center, students attending high schools with 90% or higher white student bodies have twice as many sports opportunities as those attending 90% or higher nonwhite schools.

Celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day

Women have come a long way since women’s colleges called off their intercollegiate tournaments. And Title IX encouraged generations of women to play sports in college. The sports world as a whole has benefitted from the investment in girls’ and women’s sports.

With more work to be done, the Women’s Sports Foundation encourages the public to get involved. Communities can host events to commemorate the day. And anyone can attend an event in their area or virtually.

National Girls and Women in Sports Day recognizes how far women have come in sports. It encourages institutions and participants to fight and advocate for women athletes.

Original Source: