I grew up in Indiana—a state with a storied fondness for basketball. But, I didn’t grow up in any part of Indiana. No, I grew up in “The Region.” Less than an hour away from Chicago. In the 90’s. When Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls became legends by winning six (SIX!) NBA championships between 1991 and 1998.
The specter of the Bulls and basketball loomed so large over life that it was impossible for my three brothers—all of whom were seemingly six feet tall before they were tweens—to meet anyone without folks asking if, nay, demanding that they play basketball. In 1995, the year MJ came back from baseball and the Bulls started their second three-peat run, my parents caved and signed my brothers up for a recreational biddy ball league. And because my parents are wonderful, inclusive people, at the tender age of 10, I got to join a biddy ball team, too.
And while my brothers never competed recreationally after that season, I went on to be recruited for the Merrillville Girls All-Star B-Team that year and continued to play sports throughout elementary, middle, and most of high school, including cross-country, basketball, tennis—and my favorite, volleyball.
Playing sports gave me an excuse to hang out with friends after school. A chance to compete and take pride in my vertical. I got my first taste of rejection when I was cut from the basketball team in seventh grade. And please believe I clapped back the next year and got my spot back in eighth grade. In high school, sports were a safe, productive escape from a sometimes-chaotic home life. When I applied to colleges, the rewarding agony that was volleyball conditioning camp became the subject of my scholarship essays. And I’ve transferred my desire to win to everything from academic decathlon to game night with friends to office fantasy football leagues.
I would not be the person I am today if I didn’t play sports. And because my hometown was relatively diverse, I had plenty of athletic options to choose from. Yet, unfortunately for many—especially girls of color at racially isolated schools—the opportunities to play sports are virtually nonexistent.
That’s why on the 30th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I recognize the work of those who led the way and let me play in the first place. But the game isn’t over yet. Now that the ball is in our court, it’s up to us to continue the work to make sure all girls and women have the opportunity to lead, grow, and win through sports.