sports struggle continues

The Sports Struggle Continues....

(Undated, but probably 1975-1976) A first person account of the struggle that women waged to play sports in Chicago. Originally published in the newspaper Secret Storm. from Secret Storm (undated but probably 1975-1976)

(Editors Note: The CWLU workgroup Secret Storm organized sports teams in the Chicago Parks against often fierce opposition.This article from their newspaper-also called Secret Storm- is a report on the progress made in the parks.) 

They retired my number when I was thirteen. After that the only softball- or any other sport for that matter - that I played was what I was forced to play in gym in high school. You see, at 13 I got interested in boys, and everybody knows boys don't like girls who might beat them. But if I had wanted to play, as I do now 18 years later, I would have found it very difficult.

In most schools and parks, women are lucky to get any facilities at all, much less equal ones. Schools spend lots of money training, equipping and outfitting and fielding boys teams. Girls teams, where they exist, get little. Most parks, when they have women's softball at all, schedule us into the worst time spots, giving priority to men's softball and boys little league. Even when we do get leagues, we often get unequal treatment. Frequently women only get to play 5 innings to men's 7. In at least one park, the women's league isn't even guaranteed a five-inning game; if the men get there, the women have to leave the diamonds. In the parks (though this is true for men too), there is also great confusion about dates - when do teams start signing up? When does league play begin? What's the final date for rosters? What are the fees? These vary from park to park, and often within a park no one is quite sure what's going on.

The lack of little league and equal sports programs in the high schools, combined with inadequate facilities in the parks, means girls and women have very poor training in sports. Many women might enjoy playing softball, but they feel they're not good enough. But men weren't born knowing how to play. They were taught, and people invested a lot of time and money to teach them. The lack of child care also makes it difficult for many mothers to play. It's hard to focus on a fly ball when your 3 year old is screaming her head off. If all these handicaps don't keep women out of sports, often the general attitude that sports aren't feminine will. Young girls who could compete with boys in little league may be held back by their parents' fears. Or they may not care to deal with the hostility of their managers and teammates. High school girls may get laughed at or labeled tomboy for playing sports.

One final handicap women face is getting teams together. While men may be able to get a company or local tavern to sponsor their teams without any trouble, these same companies and taverns may be reluctant to sponsor a women's team. Many women do not work outside the house, which makes it even harder to get a sponsor. It's also difficult to get a team together when you're a housewife. In your daily routine you may not see enough women who would want to play. And even if you do work outside the home, your schedule will often be tighter than a man's, if on top of working you do all the housework take care of the children, etc.

Secret Storm believes women should have equal sports facilities, equal training, and equal treatment with what men have. Sports give great pleasure, both social and physical. While we have a lot of handicaps to overcome, we're starting to work on them.

Last fall we organized a very successful volleyball league at Kelvyn Park, and during the winter we organized a basketball league at Hamlin Park. This summer we are organizing softball teams at several north and northwest side parks for both women and high school girls.

You can join one of our teams without having a whole team yourself, and without feeling you have to be excellent before you start. We hold skills clinics (May 18th at 1 p.m. and May 22nd at 6:30 p.m. Call 953-6808 for places) so women can learn to play; we arrange sponsors (the sponsor pays half or more of the fee and team - make up the difference - no more than $5 per season). Also it's a good way of making new friends. We emphasize friendship first, competition second, because we want to see women's sports take the best, but not the worst aspects of men's sports. We also provide child care for all games, so women with children can play, knowing their children are having fun too.

We've taken on a few struggles along the way too. Last summer at Horner Park we met with the park supervisor to express our anger about only being allowed to play five inning games. He promised that this year a captain's meeting at the beginning of the season would decide the length and rules of the game. We also helped some parents and girls who were trying to open up the male dominated little league and won a compromise which can pave the way for the full integration of girls into little league.

These are all starting measures. In order to get real equality for women in all areas of sports, we're going to need organization. Sometime this summer we hope to start a women's sports rights organization that can get teams together and fight for women's rights wherever the fight must take place, whether it's the parks, the schools, the little leagues, or even city hall itself. If you'd like to be a part of starting this organization, let us know. Women deserve fair play.