A Story in Honor of Mothers Day
My name is Nora Carr, and this is a long post about three things: women in sports, my personal experiences with Ultimate, and some easy ways that we can continue to grow and promote the women’s Ultimate community.
Before we begin, I would like you to do something. Take 5 minutes (seriously, a whole 5…time it!) and consider the following: How has playing sports influenced your life?
Try to think beyond the big games, your personal highlight reel, and the fun travel with teammates, and try to get down to the little things…like being able to let go of everything else in your life and feel a unique freedom and connection to those around you.
Ok, ready? 3…2…1… Think.
Got some ideas? Good.
Now here’s another question to consider: What would you be doing right now if you hadn’t been able to play team sports?…well, OK…not NEVER…maybe some skiing here or there…or ice-skating as a kid. Of course, some tennis or swimming on summer weekends. You would have played basketball during PE, but only half-court, because full-court would be too much for you to handle. And that would be it.
There would be no team practices. There would be no tournaments. There would be no lifting…no sprinting…no footwork…no skills. No Ultimate. You would have never even comprehended being able to participate in these things.
What kind of person would you be? How would you approach new situations? How would you overcome challenges?
Sure…at the core you would still be the wonderful person you are…but your life would most likely be drastically different.
Oh, I forgot to mention one more thing…you would also be referred to as the “weaker sex”…in your University’s Yearbook…but don’t worry, because it would be in a positive way.
I have been thinking about this scenario over the past few weeks, and it sounds like a nightmare to me. For my mother, this was the world she grew up in.
A Story in Honor of Mothers’ Day:
A month ago I was over at my parents’ house visiting, probably talking about the Riot season starting, and my mom brought up a flight we took over ten years ago, when I was in high school. It was just the two of us traveling together, she couldn’t remember where to, and when we got to our row I took the middle seat. In the window seat was a “young man” (mom’s words) about my age. My mother remembered thinking to herself, “how’s the conversation going to start?” A few minutes later, this “young man” turned to me and asked, “What sport do you play?”, and our conversation took off from there.
As my mom explained, this simple question was a very special and emotional event for her: “That would never have happened when I was your age…out of the realm of possibility.” A young man would never have assumed that a young woman played sports, and a conversation like this would never have taken place.
At that moment, my mom thought to herself, “Wow, we’re in a new world here, and it’s a much better world.”
My mom graduated from the University of Washington in 1969. She can’t remember any women’s college sports that existed when she was a student.
Title IX changed that.
A decade ago I was a senior in high school, procrastinating the writing of my Senior Thesis – a 26 page document that drew from 59 sources, took months of hard work, and was supposed to help us with the transition into college.
The good thing about it was that we could write about whatever we wanted.
Nature Themes in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Mating Rituals of Birds in Subtropical South America
The Origins and Influence of No Pants Day
And in my case: The Conflicting and Confusing History and Progress of Title IX
I started playing soccer when I was four years old, and over time picked up softball, basketball, sailing, some tennis, a little Crew, a minute of Kung Fu, and of course Ultimate. I have played sports pretty much year-round for most of my life, and so naturally my senior thesis was related to sports.
In 1972 the United States Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” When applied to sports, this legislation had a huge impact.
From 1972 to 1982, the percentage of female college athletes increased from 15% to 30%, while high school female athletes increased from 7% to 35%. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the number of female athletes has continued to increase, and in 2012 (when the article was published) reached a new record of 200,000 female athletes across 9,274 NCAA teams. There are also record numbers of women working in college sports, both as coaches and athletic directors, although there is still vast room for improvement, especially at the upper administrator level.
(Check out the article here: http://chronicle.com/article/Female-Participation-in/130431/)
With the recent community focus on gender-equality in the sport of Ultimate, I wanted to reflect on the history of women playing sports, my own experiences, and look at the positive changes that have happened and still need to happen in Ultimate.
Since hearing that story from my mom, I have been thinking a lot about how much of an impact playing team sports has had on my life, especially Ultimate. I have also been thinking about how thankful I am for the women and men who fought, and still fight, to make it possible for women to play sports and have athletic opportunities that are equivalent to the ones that men have. Playing team sports has been and continues to be an immense part of my life, and it is impossible for me to imagine who I would be without it.
Although I have technically played soccer for more years than any other sport, Ultimate has been hands-down the most impactful experience for me…and that goes for all the non-sport activities I have done as well. Three more seasons, and I will have been an Ultimate player for half of my life…that is an exciting thought and something I write with great pride. With every year of playing I get stronger, faster, better, and more dedicated to my athleticism, my health, and my sport. I love all of it, and I am incredibly thankful to be in a situation that allows for all of these things to happen.
In addition to these physical benefits, I know that I have grown into a better version of myself through my experiences playing on teams. I am happier, I am more caring, more flexible, more confident in my ability to overcome challenges. I know that hard work pays off and honesty builds the best relationships. I have faced devastating disappointment and frustration on teams as well, and have learned to keep going and build myself back up. I have seen teammates get married, have children, and also pass away. Ultimate is a huge part of who I am, and I consider myself incredibly lucky and privileged to be part of such an amazing, dedicated, and passionate community.
When I think about the women that make this community – my friends, teammates, and opponents – I am overwhelmed with awe, appreciation, and admiration…and that is only the first letter of the alphabet. The recent article in Skyd Magazine recognizing the “21 Most Influential People in Ultimate Today” has received a significant number of comments rightfully criticizing the lack of women represented, and presenting further nominees that have made huge impacts in the community. In response, the author acknowledges his biases, and also points to a “lack of familiarity” with potential female candidates. This is awesome. This is true. There is something that can change.
Women (and men!) in the Ultimate community have already worked to make big changes in our sport and to provide more opportunities for girls and women to play. A number of my teammates on Riot have dedicated their lives to doing just this, and being able to see the positive changes that have resulted in Seattle from their efforts is inspirational. There are infinite ways in which women’s Ultimate can develop, and the more women who decide to give back to the women’s community and game, the better our community will be. Movements are already starting, and I am excited to see how we can band together and make this community one that promotes women’s sports just as much as men’s.
Here are some simple ways we (and you!) can accelerate this process:
1. Keep writing articles! Let’s get more public discussion generated for and by women. (Big shout-out to Mike Lawler aka Tross for his recent “21 People” article!)
2. Talk with your teammates and friends to brainstorm ways to make women’s Ultimate more visible.
3. Promote your team through social media and support other teams.
4. Come together as a community to create opportunities. Talk to players on other teams about what they are doing to advance the sport. Find time at tournaments to meet players from across the country and have meaningful discussions about women’s Ultimate.
5. Watch women’s teams during your byes. Make signs showing support for the women’s teams during semis and finals at tournaments.
6. Promote Ultimate outside the community. Talk to your coworkers and family about why women’s Ultimate is important to you, and think of ways they can help support you.
7. Coach, teach, and be a positive role model for girls and other women.
8. Ask your mom about her experience with sports. It can be pretty motivational.
From the article in The Chronicle that I referenced earlier, R. Vivian Acosta (who has been studying women’s sports since the passage of Title IX) was quoted saying: “We had to leave anything that made us look like an athlete back in the gym, but you also left your assertiveness and sense of strong self back there because the world didn’t think that belonged to the females of the world…Now we see little kids walking around the grocery store in their soccer uniforms and people celebrate that. For us, it’s a child-by-child celebration.”
Let’s take a note from those who have worked to spread women’s sports and focus on building women’s Ultimate one small step at a time. Eventually, these steps will lead us to the right place; let’s work to get there soon.
A Final Thank You
While interviewing my mom for this article, she told me this: “I longed to play football. My parent’s loved Husky Football.”
Thank you for always supporting me, in life and in sports. You were always there to kick a soccer ball with me or help me work on my softball pitching. You drove me to practices, watched my games, and cheered for me from the sidelines. I am sorry the world was not as accepting to women’s athletics when you were my age. You would have been an amazing football player. I love you Mom!
Seattle Riot, #55