If the United States’ women’s Olympic team was its own country, it would sit in second place in terms of overall gold medal count at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After the Olympics closed, the women had won 61 of the 121 total medals earned by both U.S. men and women Olympic teams, and the women walked away with 27 of the 46 gold medals. The U.S. women ruled Rio.
Helen Maroulis became the first U.S. woman to win a gold medal in wrestling, as she dominated the mat all year long.
Despite its devastating loss in Rio, the U.S. women’s soccer team rules the pitch, as the nation has taken pride in fielding the world’s top team in a sport, well, not dominated by the U.S.
It’s a matter of pride for these women and this nation in becoming the world’s best, and this summer proved that they truly were at the top of the class.
If not for the Olympics, we wouldn’t have seen the growth in women’s sports at the college level — and at the high school level — that we’ve seen the last 20 years.
Teri Wood, Title IX specialist for the Tacoma School District
“It’s incredible to see so many women succeed at the level of the Olympics,” said Teri Wood, who works for the Tacoma School District as a Title IX specialist. “If not for the Olympics, we wouldn’t have seen the growth in women’s sports at the college level — and at the high school level — that we’ve seen the last 20 years.”
Wood cherishes where the sporting world is at these days, knowing that the landscape could be much, much more different. On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed into law one of the most important pieces of legislation in high school sports history: Title IX.
For more than 40 years, Wood has seen the benefits of what one small piece of law can do for a section of the population. Title IX, in a nutshell, is the federal law that prohibits the discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally-funded education program or activity.
“That was the first step. And even after passing Title IX, schools didn’t know how to implement the law into (athletics). For so long, ” Wood said.
For more than 20 years, there was little movement in sports for females. The girls were often after thoughts to many of the schools, mainly because the boys sports became too powerful, or had seeped into the culture as the only sports worth noting.
But then there was a change.
Girls were an afterthought to many of the people in the area. Schools would support game nights for the boys but the girls would be anonymous most of the time.
Marc Blau, Tacoma Athletic Commission
“Girls were an afterthought to many of the people in the area. Schools would support game nights for the boys but the girls would be anonymous most of the time,” said Marc Blau, who chairs the Tacoma Athletic Commission’s Banquet of Champions, as well as hires volleyball officials in and around the area. Raising daughters, Blau saw the difficulties female athletes had to go through just to reach college or Division I sports.
Then in 1993, there was a change in attitude. Wood believes it’s in two parts that have driven the rise of girls sports in the country.
“There are many schools that are good about promoting all sports fairly,” Blau said. “Now you’ll see girls walking the hallways during school wearing their ‘gameday’ shirts advertising that they play that night. That brings people out to those games ... something like a shirt can mean a lot to a kid, because they are wearing something they take pride in being a part of; they’re representing their (school) and that means everything to them.”
First, there was the creation of an idea that pushed forward the mindset that all sports, regardless of gender lines, should be treated the same. The football team holds equal ground as the volleyball team in the schools’ eyes.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“After 20 years of Title IX being the law, there were still schools who weren’t fairly distributing the money they earned through fundraisers,” Wood said. “Anytime a team earns any money, or when money is brought into the schools, it’s supposed to go back to the school to share with all the other programs.”
Two decades after it was signed into law, schools still didn’t know how to integrate girls into athletics, as the battle wasn’t just on giving fair chances, but changes the minds about women in sports.
“Women weren’t thought of as athletes by many people,” Wood said. “They weren’t thought of the same as the boys were.”
Changing the mindset was the goal, and it took individuals to start to see the big picture — not the little ones — but what the world could be if people just gave them a chance.
“I think it started with the parents,” Wood added. “Especially the fathers who played or coached sports. They came in with an attitude thinking that’s there’s nothing their daughters couldn’t do that the boys can. For them, it was about sharing something they loved with their children.”
Regardless of sport or sex of the child.
The Olympic glory that the U.S. women’s team enjoyed this summer was one built over decades, by knocking down stereotypes and shooing away the naysayers.
More than 43 years ago, arguably the most important piece of legislation in high school sports history was passed into law. Even though the landscape looks vastly different from before, there’s always more to do, always more left to improve on. More ways to enrich the lives of the athletes in our area.
Not just for the girls in our area, but for everyone.