CHANGING ATTITUDES Organization celebrates females in sports

Today marks the 17th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
Succeed in sports; lead in life.
That's the theme for today's celebration of the 17th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
"Sports can lead to life-long learning," said Joy Griffin, a professor at the University of New Mexico and president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.
"It's not just physical, but there are emotional and social benefits that can accrue, as well."
A coalition of five national organizations, including the NAGWS, has created the commemorative day, which recognizes the achievement of female athletes and the importance of participation in sports.
"It provides visibility for parents, for sports administrators, for girls themselves," Griffin said. "Across the nation [today], we have many different activities centering around sport and the benefits of sport."
One of the biggest activities was held in Washington D.C., where champion female athletes, including Billie Jean King (tennis), Dominique Dawes (gymnastics), Julie Foudy (soccer) and Nikki McCray (basketball) and representatives from Congress met to celebrate on Capitol Hill.
The creation
The death of Flo Hyman, the star of the 1984 U.S. silver medal-winning volleyball team, inspired the creation of NGWSD in 1987.
"It can bring attention to quality programs and equal participation," said Griffin, who specializes in sports psychology and sports administration. "It can educate girls and women in sports leadership and life leadership. It can advocate career opportunities for sports and women."
The numbers show that girls participation has increased dramatically over the years. From 1971 to 2001, girls participation has increased by 847 percent, Griffin said, while participation at the collegiate level has risen 403 percent.
"And I expect it to go up," Griffin said. "It goes to show that interest and ability evolves as a function of opportunity and experience.
"Title IX has given the opportunity, and women have responded to that."
Title IX -- good and bad
A law created in 1972, Title IX has aimed to prohibit discrimination in federally-funded educational programs.
If there is a drawback to Title IX, Griffin said, it's that the law has decreased the number of women in leadership and coaching positions.
Before Title IX, more than 90 percent of female teams were coached by females, Griffin said, but that number has dropped to 44 percent in 2002.
"Title IX has really boosted sports participation by girls and women, but it actually decreased the number of women in leadership and coaching positions," Griffin said.
Since 2000, Griffin said, 90.3 percent of new coaching jobs have gone to men.
"As compensation for coaching started to go up in women's sports, men started to take woman coaching jobs," she said.
And that's one of the areas that Griffin would like to see change.
"Unless you have female role models, the female athletes won't view sports administration or coaching as viable career choices," she said. "I would hope more female athletes start to choose sports administration and coaching because I think it's important to have both genders represented."
With Title IX under review by a Bush administration commission, NGWSD participants will rally for support of the law today.
Instilling the interest
Today's celebration also will honor the many heroes in the advancement of girls and women's sports, particularly those at the grass-roots level.
"Those coaches and physical education teachers and parents who provide girls with an opportunity to have fun, and start to develop the skills that will allow them to continue to play, those are the real heroes," Griffin said.
And as long as those leaders continue to teach today's youth, the future looks good for women's sports.
"The young girls who are participating now and enjoying sports will want the same things for their daughters and sons," Griffin said.
"Society has changed along with Title IX," she added. "Now that we see these benefits accruing from sport, those benefits are open to every person."

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