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The greatest 10-and-under girls softball game I ever saw

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Believe it or not, there are times when youth sports really are all about the kids, playing now, at this moment. Not about parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, or who’s bringing the snack. All of a sudden, a game gets so good and compelling, and the young players’ nerves of steel so awe-inspiring, that all you can do is watch and enjoy the ride.

Tonight, that was my 10-year-old daughter’s third-place softball game for in the kinda-sexist-named Petite Division of the Oak Lawn, Ill., house softball program.

Usually, a third-place game (I managed that same daughter in one two years ago) is a loose affair, what with the pressure of a championship gone. (Thank God.) My daughter Grace’s team is pretty loose to begin with, so they can practically barely stand erect as her Frost, the fourth-place team in the regular season, played the Storm, the second-place team.

The Frost went up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, and the Storm tied it in the bottom of the second. The bottom of the third wasn’t so good for the Frost. They gave up the maximum six runs in an inning, were down 8-2, and looked outmatched by a team that had four travel players to their one. The girls looked dispirited coming into the dugout — and didn’t look any better when they went down 1-2 in the top of the fourth. The coaches’ voices didn’t change pitch, but the Frost coaches seemed much louder as they urged their players.

But then, the magic started happening. The Frost scored four runs in the bottom of that inning, the last two, if I may brag, on a two-run opposite-field single by Grace. Now down only 8-6, the Frost’s spirits were back up, and the parents started getting a little more interested in the game. A few by me joked about not wanting to go to the bathroom, lest they miss anything. All that toilet talk made me have to use the bathroom (where, by the way, I was saw my daughter’s manager in the next stall).

Actually, not just the parents were zooming in their focus. This Frost-Storm game was taking long enough, games were finishing on other fields, and hearing about the comeback under way, players and their families decided to stick around and watch. Slowly more people were circling the field, cheering good plays (by either team), and making more of a buzz and ruckus than your average Florida Marlins home game.

I don’t know much about the Storm. But what they were seeing out of the Frost was pure guts. Players who normally didn’t hit were smacking balls. The Frost would get pushed to the edge of the abyss, then come fighting back. Again in the bottom of the fifth, the Frost got two quick outs. But then came four more runs — on two-run singles placed to about the same spot Grace placed hers. By the end of five-and-half innings, a 8-2 Frost deficit had become a 10-10 tie. More fans streamed toward the field, out of the impending darkness, to check out what was going on.

What was going on was two teams of 9- to freshly minted 11-year-old girls who were as cool and loose as the crowd was wound tight, especially we parents. It’s always difficult to watch your child play because you can’t protect them from injury or failure. It’s even harder when they are being put in situations that would make major-leaguers fold. In the Frost’s comeback, all of the eight runs they scored after falling behind came with two outs. A lot of them came with two strikes. I don’t think they even heard the parents or coaches anymore. I didn’t. I didn’t know of anything that wasn’t happening in front of me.

The Storm came back with one run in the bottom of the fifth to go up 11-10. That meant, for the Frost, score in the top of the sixth, or the game is over.

Grace was up first. She had two hard singles her first two at-bats. But she struck out against the same pitcher she already hit twice. If you followed me on Twitter and Facebook (and why wouldn’t you?), you would have seen this:

Grace strikes out to start 6th. Just setting team up for more two-out heroics.

Hey, after what I had seen the previous two innings, that was not a cocky thing to say. Meanwhile, the players and coaches for the Petite championship game, which was already supposed to have started, were now gathering around to watch.

It turns out the heroics were after one out. More girls smacked base hits to that same magic spot in right field, and the Frost ended the top of the sixth up 13-11. Do you believe in miracles?

The Storm didn’t become a second-place team by folding up easily, either. Though they appeared rattled at times that the Frost wouldn’t go away, they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth and final regulation inning. They had the bases loaded with two out. One walk, and the game was over.

The Frost’s pitcher, Jackie, who in her first game pitching cried herself to distraction after her rough outing (so much I had Grace make a point to tell her everything was OK and her teammates had her back), was now in her third inning tonight — and she wasn’t backing down. Sure, she might get a little frustrated over a bad pitch, but her eyes were lasers into the catcher’s glove. The count works to two balls and two strikes. At this point, the 15,000 people were standing or on the literal edges of their seats to see what would happen. Discussion over how a 10-year-old girl can stomach this much pressure was rampant. If anybody brought Maalox, they were chugging it.

Jackie throws a pitch catching the outside part of the plate. Called strike three. Game is tied.

You know the cliche that it’s a shame somebody has to lose this game? (Ask John Isner and Nicolas Mahut about that one.) As it turned out, in Frost v. Storm for third place, no one had to. It was 8:35 p.m., 35 minutes after the championship game was supposed to have started. So no extra innings — there’s a tie for third.

For this game, there really was no other appropriate way to end it. I don’t know how the Storm felt. But the Frost players were beaming and jumping around with excitement over grinding out such a tough, um, not-win. After each game in their league, a team will form a line with players on each side, slapping hands and chanting, “We. Are. Proud of you, yeah, we are proud of you,” as the other team runs underneath — and then the teams reverse the lineup. In this case, I think the 27,000 fans who saw the end were ready to do the same chant with each team.

Oh, of course, there were some dimbulbs who couldn’t grasp the excitement of the moment. One old fart sitting next to me was ripping the coaches and the players like he was watching a Chicago White Sox game. Dude, these are volunteers coaches and 10-year-old girls, not full-time millionaire pros. Another guy was upset the Frost and Storm couldn’t play extra innings. I mean, really whining about it. Another parent mentioned to Grace’s coach that it’s too bad the Frost made so many errors, or they would have won.

My response is to quote my late father: If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

Who cares? Each team makes errors. Half the fun of watching this age group play is seeing how they recover from their mistakes — and both teams improved by leaps and bounds in learning how to forget their mistakes and move on.

It’s nearly three hours after the Frost-Storm game, and I’m still feeling a buzz about it. It’s the kind of buzz that keeps me excited about my kids’ games, even when around me there’s hassles with parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, and who’s bringing the snack.

Your 2010 Frost, after losing to the eventual champion. Yep, they’re a loose group.

Knee injuries and girls: lessons from my 10-year-old daughter

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I’m no physician, but I feel like I’ve become a little bit of an expert on noncontact athletic knee injuries suffered by girls. That’s because today, for the second time since February, I took my 10-year-old daughter to the doctor because she had sprained her left knee playing basketball. In that sense, I am becoming an expert in girls’ knees the same way I became an expert in the cars I drove in high school: because the same parts kept breaking down.

Tomorrow I take my daughter to her first appointment with an orthopedist, who will find out (hopefully) exactly why this same knee keeps getting hurt. In the short term, I know she’s worried about getting well before her softball league games start April 27 (and given the frantic messages I’ve gotten from her coach, he’s worried about it, too — hey, it’s my kid and my blog, so I can brag!), and so she can get back to her musical theater rehearsals. (Once she got her crutches today, she spent most of the afternoon walking around with them outside, fighting my entreaties to get back in and rest her knee.)

However, my wife and I are more worried that someday she’s going to need more than crutches and Ace bandages to take care of that left knee. Hence, why I’m planning on asking the orthopedist about any physical therapy or structural problems that might be causing my daughter to hurt that same knee.

As anyone who has watched women’s college basketball and its high knee-brace content knows, female athlete knees are more susceptible to injury than those of their male counterparts. Without using phrases like “narrow femoral arch,” researchers believe there are physical reasons why this happens. In particular, girls and women are more at risk of tearing their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), especially after puberty. The ACL connects the femur and the tibia behind the kneecap, which is why when that sucker gets torn, you see athletes writing in so much pain. ACL injuries are commonly caused without contact, through twisting or jumping. Each time my daughter got hurt, she reported feeling pain after jumping.

I’ve become enough of an Internet expert on girls’ knee injuries to know that a common reason jumping is a problem is because of how many girls land. Mainly, the problem is that girls are more likely to jump with their knees pointed together, creating more stress on them upon landing. Do that enough times, and the ACL starts to tear, and when it tears enough, it pops. And when it pops — the pain!

We’ll find out at the orthopedist whether this is the root of my daughter’s problem, particularly because she noticed the pain after a jump, with no contact from anyone else. If the orthopedist doesn’t check that, I might have to break out my Internet Expert’s License and tell him. Although, technically, I don’t know for sure that it’s the ACL. It seems like it, given her complaints of pain under the kneecap, although I don’t know if that’s why her left kneecap seemed to move a lot more, and disturbingly, freely than the right when her pediatrician manipulated it today.

I might be a budding Internet expert, but that only will take me so far in trying to ensure my 10-year-old daughter isn’t having major knee surgery by age 13. Eventually, I was able to afford to buy cars that allowed me not to learn so much about how they fail. Hopefully, my daughter is on the road to allowing me to spend less time becoming an expert in how girls’ knees fail.

If girls play football, boys will grow up to be wife beaters!

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Dave Cisar is an authority on coaching youth football, especially in the ways of the old-timey single-wing offense.

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However, I’m not so sure he’s an authority on girls playing football, a subject upon which his thoughts are as old-timey as that offense he borrowed from Pop Warner to dominate at Pop Warner, or some such youth football equivalent.

I think you’ll catch his drift with the headline on his piece about girls and football: “Should girls be playing youth football? NO!”

Sorry, I should have said “spoiler alert.”

Cisar, writing at EZine Articles:

In inner-city Omaha [where Cisar founded the free athletic program Screaming Eagles Sports] nearly 70% of our players have no man in the home. If you think I’m exaggerating, we have had games with 2 people in the stands and both were females, not enough for a chain crew. This was not a one time deal, we have had many games where we did not have 3 males to run the chains. Many of our players have no model of behavior in the house to “copy” of how to properly treat a woman. The kids often see first hand women being physically and mentally abused and of course they hear it in the music they listen to, on TV and in print. I’ve been coaching youth football for 15 years and the “dadless” house problem is getting worse every year. Tom Osborne in his book “Faith in the Game” claims this problem is increasing and is responsible for the majority of crime and problems with young males.

If we let girls play tackle football with boys, we teach the boys that harsh physical contact with females is acceptable behavior. In fact as coaches we would have to encourage and reward this physical contact. Our players would get in the habit and be used to being physical with females, the act would desensitize everyone involved in the activity of physical force being applied to females by males. The female in the meantime is learning that harsh physical contact with males is acceptable, it is now a habit. Now while having females on your team may help the short term progress of some of our football teams I’m not sure we are helping either the boy or the girl in their long term development as productive members of our society.

Now, I’ve coached co-ed basketball teams, so I know that, at least initially, boys and girls do feel a little weird about playing together, especially when there’s contact involved. And I don’t doubt Cisar’s sincerity that he wants boys to overcome a tough environment and treat women well.

But I think kids are capable of separating their on-field actions from their off-field actions. If that wasn’t the case, then Cisar would have been teaching the inner city boys of Omaha that it’s acceptable, off the field, to body block anyone who gets in their way.

His concern is based on an old canard: it’s not OK to hit a girl. I mean, it isn’t. But what I’m saying is, implicit in that statement is that it IS OK for boys to hit each other — which, off the field, isn’t supposed to happen, either. (By the way, it’s nice that Cisar wants to keep women free from the chains, if not of bondage, than of the first-down marker.)

So how does Cisar explain his no-gurlz-allowed policy to families who want to sign up their daughters for football?

In our rural program we have had no female football sign ups. In Omaha we have had a few moms try and sign their daughters up for football. After the initial disappointment wore off and the mom was told why we think it makes sense in the long run for females not to play, the moms were very supportive. I can think of just one case where mom didn’t “get it” and pulled her son out of the program because we would not allow her daughter to be pummeled by boys on our team. I can still see her today, a single mom with 3 kids that needed the program who refused to listen to reason. This mom had two missing front teeth, probably caused by the same cycle we were trying to help break.

She lost her front teeth because her significant male other played football against girls as a kid?

Dave Cisar may already be too late in his crusade to keep football girl-free, and not just because he might run into Natalie Randolph or Debbie Vance at a coaching clinic. For instance, he must have missed the memo that the Florida High School Athletic Association officially has declared football a co-ed sport.

Written by rkcookjr

April 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Cyberbullying and the suicide of a high school athlete

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In all seriousness: teenagers, if you’ve ever had the romantic notion that after you kill yourself, everyone will love you and miss you, then you haven’t been following the postscript of the March 21 suicide of West Islip, N.Y., high school student and star soccer player Alexis Pilkington.

That sounds a little cruel, because certainly plenty of people do love and miss the 17-year-old senior, who was set to play small-college soccer on her home Long Island after graduating in June. However, plenty of people have decided to treat her in death like apparently she was treated the same way in the waning days of her life — hounded by cyberbullying.

Suffolk County (N.Y.) police are investigating whether any criminal charges can or should be brought in the cyberbullying that apparently plagued Alexis Pilkington before she killed herself at her home. While plenty of people are ready to blame cyberbullying — the act of online harassment that’s quickly replacing getting the shit beat out of you or having your lunch money taken as the most popular form of bullying — for the girl’s decision to end her life, her family said she was undergoing counseling for an unspecified problem. “She was sick,” the West Islip Tribune quoted an uncle as saying. “She was fighting an illness we’ll never understand.”

Almost one month before Pilkington’s suicide, a speaker came to her school to discuss his son’s 2003 suicide, and how after the fact he discovered his son fighting off classmates online, or what were to become known as cyberbullies. It’s not known whether Pilkington attended that session, although school officials were quoted in local newspaper as saying that as a popular girl and sports star, she probably wouldn’t have.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly the nature of cyberbullying against Pilkington — who was doing it, what it was about, and why it was happening. Some friends have pointed the finger at Formspring.me, a new social networking site that allows users to register so they can ask and answer questions from other users, and have those questions and answers streamed to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Only a few days before Pilkington’s suicide, the company got a round of venture capital funding and made its big move from Indianapolis to Silicon Valley. I presume this is not the kind of big publicity it wanted right about now.

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A tribute video that takes a moment to lambaste Formspring.me.

Is cyberbullying responsible for Alexis Pilkington’s death? I’m not sure there’s a definite answer to that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists “isolation” as a contributing factor to suicide, and no doubt being constantly harassed online, particularly from peers or people you thought were your friends, can be incredibly isolating.

Legally, cyberbullying is not treated as an accessory to murder or manslaughter in case of suicide. On March 29, nine teenagers were charged in the high-profile cyberbullying of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant to South Hadley, Mass., who killed herself Jan. 14. The charges were related to harassment and violation of civil rights (though two teens with statutory rape charges show that not all the alleged problems were online in nature.)

All we really know is: cyberbullying doesn’t help. And we know that for the most part parents, stuck in a generation gap where back in their day bullying required face-to-face contact, aren’t taking it seriously. I went to a talk at my son’s junior high school delivered by John Halligan, the same parent who appeared at West Islip High. More than 150 chairs were set up in the gym. Seven parents showed up.

As with old-time fist-in-the-face bullying, the problem is getting parents to believe their sweet little child is capable of something so nasty, but what makes cyberbullying especially problematic is that those parents are even less inclined to believe those words can hurt more than sticks and stones. (My wife and I just took texting off my 10-year-old daughter’s cell phone when two girls who have been friends started barraging her with disparaging remarks, rather than going through the dead end of confronting their parents about it.)

Also, as this scathing West Islip Tribune editorial points out, maybe growing seeing their parents flip out during youth sporting events, Tea Party rallies and long lines at the grocery checkout have given kids the idea that flipping out is an acceptable emotion to be used at any time.

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“I learned it by watching you!”

What’s even more unfortunate is that the cyberbullying of Alexis Pilkington isn’t resting after her death. Despite attempts to take down objectionable posts and photos as quickly as possible, an RIP site set up on Facebook is still rife with disparaging comments and obscene pictures. That’s resulted in another Facebook site ripping those who ripped her on the other site, which of course has attracted people to rip Alexis Pilkington on that site, too. A 15-year-old in West Islip has put up her own anti-cyberbullying Facebook site in response to all of this (the pre- and post-life activity), but who knows when that site will get blasted, too? (And, by the way, people have set up scores of malware sites for those who look at their pages to find out more regarding Alexis Pilkington’s death.)

Unlike the cyberbullying Pilkington apparently received before her suicide, it appears that much of the post-death traffic is coming from those who don’t know her, especially because I’ve seen references to the notorious message board denizens of 4chan.

Technically, that would not be cyberbullying, but trolling. No matter. Just remember, teens, that while you imagine yourself looking down from Heaven as the masses cry out your name, you’ll also be saying a lot of other people taking the opportunity to sully your name  without you around to defend it.

Girls play baseball, too

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nogirlsYou wouldn’t know it from the rosters at the Little League World Series, but there’s a groundswell growing to let girls play baseball.

Growing only now, you say, 35 years after Little League was forced by lawsuit to allow girls to play? (The ban came into effect after the 1950 season, when a girl posed as a boy named “Tubby” to play in Corning, N.Y.) And what do I mean, “let?” Isn’t this issue settled?

Not by a long shot. Female baseball players are few and far between. In Indiana, the state’s high school athletic association overturned a ban on girls even trying out for baseball only this spring, after determining it would lose a lawsuit. A girl playing high school baseball is still big news. And two different books were published this year explaining the past and current history of baseball authorities at every level being active members of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.

Little League would certainly not call itself a member. In 2004, when it had two girls in the World Series, it had a special ceremony to honor female ballplayers. This year, for the second time, the Little League World Series roster features two girls: Katie Reyes of Vancouver, B.C., and Bryn Stonehouse of Dharhan, Saudi Arabia. (Stonehouse, a Katy, Texas, native, plays for a team of expatriates residing in the Saudi Aramco Residential Camp, the fenced-in company town for the world’s largest oil company.) Reyes and Stonehouse brings the number of girls who have played in South Williamsport, Pa., up to 15 all-time. Between 2004 and 2009, there were zero girls in the Little League World Series.

Whether there are girls or whomever on a Little League World Series team has to do with the makeup of the league and the all-stars of the locality that has its tournament run. But that two girls is a rare event is evidence of all the years of banning and otherwise discouraging girls from playing. At Little League age, boys and girls are still competitive physically. Reyes is 5-foot-6, 132 pounds, and Stonehouse is 5-foot-4, 150 pounds — each bigger than many of their teammates. For that matter, my 10-year-old daughter is taller than a few of my 12-year-old son’s friends. If girls were encouraged to play baseball, there is no physical reason they could not compete.

However, since Title IX and Little League lawsuits and whatnot forced organizations and schools to let girls play at all, they have been steered toward the stated equivalent of baseball: softball.

Now, I’m not going to crack on softball. My 10-year-old daughter has played it, and well (she’s a three-time All-Star, if I may brag. And because it’s my blog, I can.) I’ve coached two teams. I know that if a girl is going to get that elusive (and often mythical, given how few actually get them) athletic scholarship for a stick-and-ball sport, it will be softball. Also, socially I can understand why girls would want to play in a sport with other girls, rather than be vastly outnumbered in baseball. Reyes and Stonehouse aren’t rooming with their teammates at the Little League World Series. They’re rooming with each other.

But I understand that baseball and softball are not the same, and that if a girl wants the opportunity to play baseball, she should have it. As it turns out, there are more female-only baseball organizations forming for the benefit of girls who would like to play the sport without having to put up with the male bullshit. Part of the ultimately unsuccessful bid to get baseball back for the 2016 Olympics was to have men’s and women’s baseball events.

Reyes has said she wants to keep playing baseball. Stonehouse, who played softball in the U.S., said she would like to return to the sport. Either is acceptable and should be encouraged. I believe, in the immortal words of “Bad News Bears in Breaking Training:” Let! Them! Play!

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Written by rkcookjr

August 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Florida officially declares high school football a coed sport

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Florida high school girls, if you’ve ever wondered about whether you should go out for your tackle football team, wonder no more.

You don’t need to be worried that some good-ol’-boy coach is going to point you to the cheerleading tryouts. You don’t have to fret that your classmates will think you’re some sort of lesbian, and not the hot kind who appears on Howard Stern. Most importantly, you do not have to shoulder the burden of being a female breaking into a male sport.

That’s because the Florida High School Athletics Association has declared, in court, in very legal language, that football is a coed sport.

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Likely Seminole High 2009 starting lineup.

If some local version of Gary Barnett tries to pick on you by saying not only are you a girl, but you’re terrible, so what? If you do this right, there are going to at least 50 other girls right there with you on the practice field. After all, the leaders of high school sports in Florida said this is how things are supposed to be.

Well, technically the FHSAA is ass-covering with its Sarah Palin-timed response (right before the July 4th holiday) to a lawsuit against its board’s 9-6 vote in April to chop varsity sports games by 20 percent, and junior varsity, and freshman games by 40 percent, for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years — for everyone sport except football and competitive cheerleading. You can’t cut football, because that’s a moneymaker! And you can’t cut cheerleading, because who the hell is going to yell their pretty little heads off for the football team?

If the FHSAA had just cut everything across the board, as New York has done, it might have been OK. After all, schools are funded by property taxes, and Florida’s are adjusted annually based on the average home sale price in January. As you might expect in a once-hot, cratering real estate market, schools are watching their bottom lines bottom out with every budget cycle.

Alas, by carving out an exception, the FHSAA left itself open to a lawsuit, and indeed a class-action case was filed in June on behalf of six girls, on the basis that the policy disparately treats female athletes under Title IX, the 1972 federal law requiring gender equity in school sports.

So there is where crisis meets opportunity for you football-loving Florida girls. The FHSAA did not say it was good on gender equity because (dragging its feet until the NFL pushed for it, and until someone reminded the association of Title IX) in January it began offering girls’ flag football as a varsity sports. Given that the Indiana High School Athletic Association dropped its own equating of baseball to softball after a girl sued to overturn its no-baseball-for-the-fairer-sex rule, the Florida folks probably figured a court wouldn’t buy that brand of reasoning.

No, the FHSAA says tackle football is a coed sports because three girls play it. Statewide. Along with 36,000 boys.

OK, technically the FHSAA is correct. However, in real life, most football coaches would welcome a girl running on their field as much as they would a case of MRSA running through the locker room.

It’s possible the FHSAA will lose its lawsuit (more like probable, given Title IX’s legal winning streak), or hastily amend its cutback plan in a July 15 meeting, scheduled two days before the next court hearing. At that point, the FHSAA might try to soft-pedal what it said in court.

But the legal rule is, no take-backsies! Girls, through its legal filing, the FHSAA has explicitly endorsed — nay, demanded — your participation.

The principals can’t do anything to stop you. The athletic directors can’t do anything to stop you. The coaches can’t do anything to stop you. And damn well those snot-nosed, stinky boys can’t do anything to stop you.

Get a few friends together. Get a lot of friends together. Get a lot of girls who aren’t even Facebook friends together. Then march down to the football coach’s office, copy of the FHSAA’s filing in hand, and tell that whistle-blowing, big-gutted tough-ass that you’re all playing football this year, and there ain’t a thing he can do about it, so what blocking sled should we hit, dammit?

Should I let my daughter be a cheerleader?

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Jennifer Gish, writing in the Albany Times-Union Parent to Parent blog, asks a question many parents of young girls have brooded over: softball player or cheerleader?

This may sound terrible, and I feel a little bad saying it, but I hope my daughter wants to play sports and doesn’t want to be a cheerleader.

I don’t have anything against cheerleading, I just always picture Sarah playing soccer or softball or basketball or whatever sport she wants. I want to her to learn about teamwork, about winning and losing. Sports build self-confidence, especially in girls, and I’d like Sarah to learn all of the lessons sports have taught me.

Cheerleading teaches many of those lessons, too. Maybe it’s a stereotype I need to get over.

I guess I see my daughter — who has a long time before hitting the playing field, by the way — more as a tomboy. Of course what I want most is my daughter’s happiness, and if she wants to be a cheerleader, I’m sure I’ll relent. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Am I wrong to feel this way?

In a word, no.

I, too, once had the same angst. When your daughter want to dress up as a cheerleader for Halloween or gets cheer-wear from well-meaning relatives, it’s all you can do not to think about snotty girls in high school and Charlie Sheen.

Ms. Gish, and all you other conflicted parents of daughters, the question to ask is this: if my girl is strong and independent, and she chooses to be a cheerleader, is that OK

In a word, yes.

After all, cheerleading doesn’t have to be only about stereotypical depictions of the girls being stuck on the sidelines while the boys are allowed to play. For example, my high school dance squad niece uses her dance training to choreograph routines that are far more complicated than the ol’ sis-boom-bah. She isn’t trying to impress the boys.It just so happens my 9-year-old chose softball — she once told me, “Why would I stand on the sideline and cheer when I could play?” I have to admit, I was pretty proud when she said that. But I’ll be just as proud if my 3-year-old someday decides to be the best cheerleader she can be.

If there is a reason to deny your daughter cheerleading, it’s the horrific injury rate — about two out of every three “catastrophic” girls’ sports injuries in high school and college are from cheers gone awry. If you think being a cheerleader is dainty, here is a likely response you might get from one who knows better:

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Written by rkcookjr

June 22, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Meet the face of the second wave of feminism

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This is my 9-year-old daughter, Grace, who unbeknownst to her is among the leaders of a second wave of feminism because she’s good at sports and school and isn’t going to hold herself back to look good for some boy.

From this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times, which put Kara Spak’s story on its cover:

… [M]iddle school-age girls across the country are increasingly chasing their goals with gusto, both on the field and in the classroom, said Barbara Risman, head of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s sociology department and executive officer of the Council on Contemporary Families. Risman co-authored a study on contemporary middle school children being presented this weekend in Chicago at the council’s yearly convention.

With fellow researcher Elizabeth Seale, Risman spent months interviewing and observing middle school students at a racially integrated, largely middle-income school district in the southeastern United States.

“What I found was that girls seem remarkably free to do many kinds of behaviors that a generation ago would have been closed to them,” Risman said. “They were very comfortable with being competitive at sports. Being athletes is part of an ideal-girl kind of package these days.”

Today’s middle school girls are also “perfectly willing” to compete with boys in the classroom, she said.

“I did not get any indication that girls felt they had to be less smart than the boys to be attractive to boys,” she said.

Risman calls this phenomenon the “second wave of feminism.” The notion that girls need to be less than boys in order to appear feminine is “a relic of the past,” she said.

As the father of two daughters I find it heartening that they will grow up in a world where girls don’t feel the need to hold themselves back. I find it disheartening, however, that girls acting in this way is front-page news.

But the researchers say, as always, there is a flip side to the progress they see:

There is a downside, though, Risman found in her research. Some of the 10- to 12-year-old girls she studied are dieting and “almost obsessive” about their appearance as a way to channel femininity, she said.

And while girls are free to pursue activities that once might have been considered the purview of boys, the same options aren’t available to boys, she said. Cheerleading, for example.

“Everyone thought a boy who would do something like that would be mercilessly teased,” Risman said. “The gender revolution has had an impact in making the girls’ movement broader and wider. It hasn’t for boys.”

That last point is interesting, because as it turns out, the focus of Risman’s paper had nothing to do with young girls. It was called “Have Boys Been Left Out of the Gender Revolution?” From the press release of the event where it was released:

Boys have gained fewer freedoms to explore their individual interests and talents from the gender revolution. Boys are still reluctant to admit to enjoying any activity, from gymnastics to dancing to knitting — or even reading books — that smacks of something girls do.  And they now seem to be subjected to the same kind of teasing about supposedly “gender inappropriate” activities or interests than girls used to face 45 years ago. Today it is young boys who are afraid of showing off how smart they are and who feel they have to pretend to be interested in certain activities and not  others for fear of being taunted as “gay.”

While I’m proud of my two daughters for being strong-willed and confident, I’m also the father of two sons — one of whom tells me stories about how the boys at his old school would pounce on anyone who exhibited the slightest interest or activity in something that was perceived not to be within the norm of boys, namely being a tough guy whose obsessions extended from sports to sports. (This son, by the way, plays sports, but doesn’t care to watch them.)

It’s heartening that my son sees the problem with rigid enforcement of gender roles. It’s disheartening that it takes place — and maybe that should be front-page news as well. None of my kids should need to grow up worrying about what boys will think about his or her interests.

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