It’s hard to feel tough when your team is called the Swift Clouds. Or the Sunflowers. Or the Morning Glories. But we pulled it off, and darn it, we won the division, we Swift Clouds with our ponytails, pink Bubble Yum and cherry Lip Smackers. After all, we were swift.
My brother’s team — and all the boys’ teams in my town’s recreation soccer league back in the day — had toughness built right into their mascots. Their teams were all named after Native Americans, political correctness apparently not yet discovered in the seventies, with names like the Tomahawks and the Blackhawks or some such thing. Definitely hawks involved. Definitely not flowers or clouds.
Last weekend, I tried to explain to two eighth grade girls, older sisters of some boys on the soccer team I coach, about the old dark days of girls’ sports.
“Swift Clouds?” one girl smirked.
“Oh my God,” they said together before breaking into laughter, as though I’d just told them we played soccer in skirts and crinolines.
At least we played full-field. When my mother played basketball back in the fifties, her girls’ team was allowed to play only half-court ball, presumably because girls couldn’t handle running the entire length of the court. They might tire or worse, sweat, and then how would they clean up in time to cheer for the boys’ team?
But my mother’s generation was lucky to play at all, and frankly, so was mine. I was the only girl on my baseball team, much to the chagrin of at least one father who let me know every chance he got that I didn’t belong on the diamond. Boys’ soccer came to town first by a few years, and when enough girls starting infringing on the boys’ spots on the teams, the grown-ups gave us our own league.
Back then, I was considered a pretty good athlete…for a girl. Girls sports were considered second-rate, and girls couldn’t be heroes. I tried to explain that last week to another eighth grade girl, who’d selected a book about a girl on a baseball team for our school’s Celebrate Reading extra credit program. I was one of the parent volunteers who’d offered to interview middle schoolers about their book selections so they could get the extra credit that the program offers. The eighth grader explained that she chose the book because the protagonist “set her mind to what she wanted and never gave up.” I tried to tell her why persistence was only part of her success; Title IX was the other. But I got blank stares.
Then something I’d never expected happened: A boy told me that he picked a book with a girl for a hero. I almost asked him about it, but none of the kids at my table seemed to think that was odd, and I didn’t want to put the idea in their heads. A boy reading about a girl was not okay in my day. Now, however, it appears to be perfectly normal, routine even.
Girls as heroes. Girls as sports stars. Girls as Tomahawks. Maybe by the time my granddaughters play sports, “for a girl” will be gone completely, and so will wimpy team names.
“Do you remember what you wanted to name our soccer team in fifth grade?” I asked one of the boys at the Celebrate Reading table. I’d coached him on my son’s team a few years ago, and when I asked the boys to pick a name to fit our yellow jerseys, I expected something tough, like the Yellow Jackets or The Fireballs. Certainly not the Daffodils. He smiled and nodded.
“The Intoxicated Babies,” he recalled, which is a great name for a punk band headlining at CBGB’s, but totally inappropriate for a bunch of 10 year-old boys. Also, nowhere near as tough as the Swift Clouds.
Tell us: What were your teams named? And your kids’ teams?