At high schools today, girls get a sporting chance


If you want to chart society's progress, let's begin with a

lesson from the kid who cuts my lawn. He goes to the same high school as my daughter, and when my wife asked if he knew her, the kid said, "What sport does she play?"

What sport does she play?

Not, what grade is she in? Not, what color is her hair? Not even, who does she go out with?

Maybe we have come a long way, baby.

At Wimbledon, they still pay the men more than the women, but in the halls of our high schools, girls don't generally wear guys' letter jackets anymore. They wear their own.

Those of us who raised daughters and were disappointed to find that, whatever we tried, they preferred dolls to trucks were gratified to learn that these same young women are eager to dive on the floor for a loose basketball like so many Dennis Rodmans.

What sport does she play?

Because I know some kids who play high school lacrosse, I

found myself watching the Loch Raven girls win their zillionth game in a row yesterday, this one an overtime thriller against Dulaney for the Baltimore County championship.

And, as I watched the girls run and sweat, bang and fall and yes, even cry, I kept thinking about my sister. She was the athlete in the family. She could run, and though she was small, she was tough. They used to call her type -- she climbed trees and she played second base -- a tomboy. There aren't any tomboys anymore, only good athletes. The term is as out of date as girl Friday.

My sister would probably tell you that one of the five most important days in her life -- right after the birth of her children -- came when she was about 12 and our mother said she couldn't play football anymore. She listened to the reasons: It wasn't ladylike. She might get hurt. She was getting of an age where when boys and girls clinched, it could mean something altogether different.

For my sister, that was the day she learned about limits.

I remember reading some years later an article about a study in which it was found that men held an advantage over women in the business world because they were so much more likely to have played team sports. The old, familiar values -- teamwork, character, practice -- were important, but there was something else, too. Playing games taught boys that it was all right to fail. When the team lost, everyone on the team lost, and, the next day, everyone on the team might win. Women, it was suggested in the study, tended to personalize failure because they hadn't experienced that shared responsibility. Even when they played games, it was more likely to be tennis or golf or some other individual sport.

If there's anything to this theory, there should be many more female CEOs in the near future, because women have begun to participate on a more level playing field. It took an act of Congress -- the well-known Title IX -- but colleges were forced to give female athletes equal opportunity. And now the high schools do the same. It even spills over to the rec leagues, where fathers no longer simply coach their sons. I have onefriend who coaches his two daughters in two different softball leagues.

In Baltimore County, the high schools offer girls a choice of field hockey, lacrosse, cross country, indoor track, track and field, coed golf, coed badminton, basketball, volleyball and soccer. A Dulaney official said as many as 300 girls participate on the varsity and JV level at her school.

What sport does she play?

At the lacrosse game yesterday, the trappings were no different than had boys been playing. There were cheerleaders -- "B-e a-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e" -- and there was a crowd of maybe 200. You could tell the fathers, because they were the ones yelling the loudest. There are a few differences in the sport -- the girls'sticks don't have as deep a pocket, and there is no body-checking allowed.

Otherwise, it's pass and run and shoot and defense and a goalie under fire. There were midfield collisionsand sticks to the head. There were high-fives after goals and exhausted tears on the losers' side when the game was finally over. Top-ranked Loch Raven, which is 52-0 under coach Wendy Galinn, came back to beat Dulaney, which had been unbeaten this season. The things you noticed most about the players were their stamina and their will. There is no question that they played the game as if it mattered, even though it really didn't. Because the teams play in different classifications, they both advance to the state regionals.

They go to the regionals and parents car-pool to take their daughters to practice and, on the playing field at least, the only limits the girls find are gender-neutral. And they wear jackets with the name of the sport they play, in case someone wants to know.

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