Girls today probably don’t really appreciate the women in the Olympics just as I didn’t really appreciate the fact that women in America only got the vote the year before my mother was born, 1920, 25 years before I was born. I keep going back to my own school years, the years when these Olympic athletes are starting their training.

As a child, I attended a private school that included Junior Kindergarten (like pre-K now) through 12th grade. Boys were enrolled in the Lower School (through 6th grade) and then it was an all girl school. I remember our gym teacher as a former military woman, drilling us as we played playground sports. In this exclusive school, the girls in the upper school had physical education activities. In the 1955 yearbook, there is this explanation,

Each year the students begin their classes, all being rather stiff after a summer’s rest. After the first few gym classes with Mrs. K’s giving us exercises to do, we become stiffer than ever. We have learned that the exercises are good for warming up before games and they also help in good posture.

The students in the school were divided into two teams, who competed against each other during the year in baseball (softball), hockey (field hockey), soccer, and basketball. The rewards were the coveted Athletic and Play Day cups. On Play Day, they could participate in tennis, softball, volleyball, deck tennis, shuffleboard, badminton, table tennis, one hundred yard dash relay race, and the fifty yard relay race. They held swimming competition at the nearby Y.W.C.A. and competed in diving and swimming with speed and form the main factors. Here are the girls in their school uniforms displaying all the equipment of sports.IMG_9147

At this time, when I was in fourth grade, I was participating in swimming and golf in the summer and games in gym class. That’s about all there was out there for us, although the school had a football team for the very few boys who attended the school. There were usually about six boys per class, so I guess there were enough to have two teams to play each other in 4th-6th grade.

I didn’t think about it because we weren’t getting extensive coverage of the Olympics or other sports, mainly because we didn’t get much television coverage of anything. When I was little, the television stations came on, yes, they actually came on the air, about 4:00 in the afternoon and signed off with the national anthem followed by a test pattern about 10:00 at night. Not much room for sports programming there. We listened to baseball on the radio or read the newspapers for scores. Not much to obsess about as far as sports were concerned.

By the time I left the private school to enter 7th grade at a large junior-senior high public school, not much had changed. In gym class, we swam in a hot pool wearing ugly tank suits and bathing caps, learning the strokes but not racing. There was a synchronized swimming group, but I can’t remember if they competed with other schools or swam for fun. In gym class, from 7th grade through high school, I remember folk dancing, exercise sessions (think jumping jacks and sit ups), interpretive dance, basketball, volleyball, and games. I’m sure there were more, but I can’t remember. And we wore these charming gym suits, purchased at Sears where they would also embroider your name.271

This was a big public school in a city with many big high schools and there were no sports for girls. I actually won a letter in basketball my senior year for intramural basketball, which makes me laugh to this day. That was about it. There was cheerleading, but who thought that was a sport or even athletic? I checked my high school yearbook, Class of 1963, and found 27 pages of boys’ sports and one page for the girls.IMG_9146

You will note there are three photos and one of them is of boys. I think this makes my point.

After high school, I attended Oklahoma State University, where I was required to take four semesters of gym. I took Golf (which I had played since I was 9, although not taking it seriously and only competing in small tournaments), Badminton (which I had played in the back yard forever), Archery & Riflery (which was fun except we used the ROTC rifles and they were very heavy) and a class called Body Mechanics (back to jumping jacks and sit ups). Easy As or Bs on my college transcript. Other options were Bowling, Tennis, and probably some others. Bowling was the most popular and the hardest to get into.

After I finished my four semesters, I didn’t participate in any sports and don’t remember even intramurals or anything else for girls. We walked across campus in our skirts (another subject, since we were required to wear skirts regardless of the weather) and walked up a lot of stairs, so I guess that kept us in shape. I’ve tried to remember if there was anything going on I didn’t know about and couldn’t think of anything, so I once again pulled out my 1967 yearbook. OSU was a large university and had nationally recognized teams in football, basketball, golf, wrestling, and other sports – for the guys. Once again, I found 25 pages of various men’s sports, 2 pages of men’s intramurals and one page for the women.IMG_9145

At least all three photos are of women or coeds (is that term even used today? I hope not).

In 1968, I became a mother to the oldest of my three daughters (a son followed, but this is about the girls). My second daughter was born in 1970 and the third in 1973. In 1972, Title IX became part of the Education laws and I was so busy having kids that I didn’t really pay attention to the changes that were about to happen.

In 1976, when my two oldest girls were in Kindergarten and Second Grade, soccer was in its second year in Tulsa. It was a new thing to have a sport that girls could play, so I put both girls on a team. And so it began. All three played soccer for many years and the trophies were awarded when they were on winning teams (not like the participation trophies today) and I made sure they had tennis, golf and swimming lessons every summer. At one point, all four of my children were on a competitive swim team, winning many ribbons and medals. They were exposed to many sports in school and each girl played on at least one team in high school (track, tennis, softball, and soccer). My middle daughter received a partial soccer scholarship in college, when those scholarships were just beginning to be awarded to girls, and played well past college.

During those years, there was more and more coverage of sports on television and the Olympics, both winter and summer, were anticipated, with more and more women’s sports being included. Our national interest and obsession became greater and more opportunities were out there for girls to participate. They didn’t just participate, but competed at higher and higher levels.

For women my age, it’s been a long time coming. I don’t take it for granted that my almost fifteen year old granddaughter has been competing since she was little and is currently on the high school volleyball and soccer teams. My six year old granddaughter is just beginning to explore the sports out there. It isn’t important whether she likes them or wants to be on a team. It’s important that she has the opportunities she wants.

Women have been competing in the Olympics for over 100 years, but it’s only been in the past 50 years that there have been so many choices for them to excel. As I watch the Olympics this year, I get an extra thrill when I watch girls of all races participate together, because there were also times when the races couldn’t compete against each other. Some sports were only for the privileged and now those are open to all.

In my life, there have been so many changes. I loved my childhood, but I don’t think of those as the good old days, or times I want to return to. Women are running companies, running races and running for President. This is in addition to being homemakers, although the men are becoming bigger partners in this, as they should. Opening all these doors to women has actually opened more doors for men, also.

During these current Olympics, as I read griping on social media about the slights to female athletes or complaining about the use of terms that are now becoming obsolete in describing women, I am thinking back to the times when these conversations weren’t even possible because we weren’t watching any women reach these spectacular heights.

My perspective is from my lofty 70 years, but my perspective is also for all the girls I grew up with and for my girls and my granddaughters. My perspective is also for my mother and grandmothers and all the way back to when they couldn’t vote, much less be active in sports. I’m all for celebrating that we’re here today, men and women cheering the achievements of some absolutely stellar female athletes.

The women also participated…