Many folks probably missed Wednesday’s headlines proclaiming the Texas A&M Lady Aggies the 2011 NCAA women’s basketball champions. It’s nothing new, but I am still amazed that girls’ and women’s sports don’t receive the recognition they deserve. It’s time the black community rallied to change that. More important than championship trophies, there is a long-lasting, positive effect that organized sports can have on young girls, especially black girls.
For as long as I can remember, I was doing cartwheels and backflips around my house and neighborhood. When I removed the top mattress from my bunk bed and turned the bed into a poor man’s uneven bars — as seen in women’s gymnastic competitions — my mom had had enough. She enrolled me in gymnastics classes. I was in the third grade.
A few years later, I was on a competitive gymnastics team. I was one of two black girls on a team of about 40. Playing kick ball in my all-black neighborhood was nothing like this. We would spend hours a day practicing and conditioning, which consisted of repetitive exercises to increase strength, flexibility and endurance. All of that was to prepare for competitions at places I had never been. I went on to compete on my high school gymnastics and cheerleading teams.
I’m convinced that those sports experiences played a key role in who I am today. Sports teaches children how to follow rules, work as a team and engage in healthy competition. For girls, the benefits are greater — increased self-esteem and confidence, a better body image and an improved academic performance. In fact, studies show a decrease in high school dropouts among girls who play sports, as well as a lower likelihood of smoking or becoming pregnant.
Unfortunately, black girls are significantly less active in sports than their white counterparts. As you might have guessed, barriers include limited access, costs and peer pressure. Roxanne Jones, a vice president at ESPN who grew up running track and cheerleading, told The Root that needs to change.