Plenty of goals left for girls, women

Commentary

February 10, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

SIENNA HUPPERT scored a goal this week.

Who is Sienna Huppert? She is a girl like any other girl in Baltimore, in Maryland, in America. She's 12 years old and a student at St. Clare School in Essex.

She is not a decorated Olympian like Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy. She is not a professional soccer player like Abby Wambach. In fact, I can almost guarantee that Sienna Huppert will never come close to making a living playing soccer.

That, however, does not diminish her latest and greatest life's achievement. In fact, it makes it all the more important.

For six years now, since she was just 6, Sienna has played in girls soccer leagues. At St. Clare, at Back River, at Southeast Regional Recreation Center in Dundalk. This week, she scored a goal for the first time in her life. As in "First Ever."

If Hamm or Foudy or WNBA stars Lisa Leslie or Dawn Staley ever heard the Sienna Huppert story, she would smile, just like I did -- just like anyone would who understands what it's like to put on a uniform, to line up with your teammates, to play.

Sienna Huppert scored the first goal of her life. And she picked a good week to do it.

Yesterday was the 19th National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

"The other parents were high-fiving me. The coaches were screaming, too. It was pretty unbelievable," her mother, Sara Huppert said.

It was better than a Ravens playoff win. Better than the Orioles finishing above .500. Better than any of the things we generally think about when we think about sporting glory.

And that includes this writer and the sports section of this newspaper, which spends an inordinate amount of time and space chronicling the minute and often distorted details of pro athletes, especially men.

There is more to athletics than what makes the headlines.

"When my daughter called me up from the game, she was almost incoherent. Then Sienna got on the phone and she was screaming and carrying on, too. She has been playing soccer for seven years and she never scored anything," Carol Huppert, Sienna's grandmother and a pre-school teacher at the College of Notre Dame, said yesterday morning when I dropped my daughter off at kindergarten.

"I think she just wants to be part of a team. She's had the benefit of great coaches. They tell her, `Come on, run. Get out there!' But they weren't nasty about it. They are supportive and, in truth, with her father out of her life, I think it gives her a father figure in some of those coaches."

This is what it's about. Not the winning, but the ideals, the experience. Team. Participation. Support. Learning. Confidence. Challenge. Fitness. Skill. Perseverance.

The Sports Day event started as an honor to Flo Hyman, the Olympic volleyball player who died in 1986, and has since been used as a rallying point for the continued effort at providing girls and women equal opportunities as boys and men to play sports.

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, advocates from the Women's Sports Foundation, the Girl Scouts and the American Association of University Women walked the halls of Congress, asking legislators to support a joint bill that mandates U.S. high schools report sports participation figures in order to better guarantee equity for girls and boys. This would extend to high schools what is already required at the collegiate level.

The trickle-down effect of equitable opportunities is still being worked out, 33 years after Title IX legislation was enacted.

Say "Title IX" all these years later and a person's eyes might glaze over. You mean we still have to work, lobby and fight to make sure girls and women get the same opportunity to play sports as boys and men? You mean there are still too many instances when fields and gyms aren't equally available to girls -- that coaches, teams and dollars are being designated disproportionately?

The answer is yes, which is why lawsuits are still necessary.

According to Women Sports Foundation figures, female high school athletes receive 1.1 million fewer opportunities to play sports than males. That's why the foundation, along with six other sponsor groups, uses National Girls and Women in Sports Day to focus on the importance of providing "quality sports, physical education and physical activity options to girls and women."

Meanwhile, Sienna Huppert will continue to persevere, even if it takes another seven years to score again.

"And this is why parents should persevere and support their daughters," Sara Huppert said.

Support them on National Girls and Women in Sports Day. And every day.

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