Photo source: AP/ Michael Owen Baker

It’s National Girls & Women in Sports Day – a celebration and a call to a continuing commitment to the promise of Title IX : equal opportunity for all to participate in athletics. As we reflect on the achievements we have seen (USA Women’s Soccer, for one), we should also take time to thank those who have helped make them possible. Title IX, like any other law, is only as effective as those who implement it at the grassroots level. That starts at home, with fathers and brothers who support their daughters and sisters. It opens the door for young girls to have coaches who see players, not girls or boys, and with administrators who encourage and embrace opportunities for girls and women. The late Kobe Bryant famously celebrated his role: “I would have five more girls if I could,” he told ESPN’s Elle Duncan. “I’m a girl dad”. Here’s to those who, like Kobe, stand up for girls and women in sports.

In 1976, shortly after Title IX was enacted, but long before it had any real impact, my own father was proud and happy to sign the permission slip required to let me enroll in shop class, rather than home economics. Never himself a sports enthusiast, and from the WWII generation, he always welcomed me into his backyard shop to work on cars and share his love for what was then an almost entirely male-dominated environment. His open-minded attitude encouraged me to continue to push boundaries in sports, academics and ultimately, professionally.

Fast forward to my own husband Paul Meosky, who has driven all of our kids, including five daughters, to countless hockey rinks across the Northeast and Canada for over 20 years! Our girls played on single sex and mixed teams (5 kids on 8 teams one year!) with Dad always there to cheer, commiserate and provide poutine. Along the way, there were several other notable men who made conscious choices to support young women in a traditionally male sport. Coach McArthur, who put the only girl on the team in net as a Mite, sparked a 17 year career that would take her to collegiate club championship tournaments. Coach Gormley, who took one of the few girls in Bantam house hockey “because it was the right thing to do”, helped foster a career that led to a color commentator role for Yale men’s ice hockey at the NCAA Frozen Four.

The ultimate shout-out goes to the parents, men and women, who worked so very hard to realize the promise of Title IX over a period of years in the struggle to establish a girls varsity ice hockey league in WNY, now celebrating its 10th anniversary: Rick Hopkins, the ultimate girl dad and driving force behind the league and the Williamsville team; Bill Pavone, whose dedication and continuing service to the league and support for Kenmore is legendary; Isabel Posner, whose reasoned determination single-handedly established the Amherst team; Dr. Liz DiTonto, a role model for young women in persistence in establishing Orchard Park; Chris Roberts, who shepherded West Seneca into the league; Ed Kirchberger, whose work in Lancaster helped round out the public school effort; and Annmarie Gajewski, who brought Msgr. Martin into the league. A special thank you goes to Mike Pautler, whose compelling presentations were essential in convincing the school districts to give young women the same opportunity as their male peers to play a sport they love.

Take the time today to thank the men and women in your lives – parents, coaches, administrators – who have provided girls and women with the support, skills and capacity to enjoy sports. Without them, Title IX is meaningless. Following their example, make a renewed commitment to the National Girls & Women in Sports message: “Lead her forward”.

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