As the Olympic games closed yesterday, the number of women athletes winning gold medals was significant. It reminded me of a recent trip I made to see athletes that were not yet at the level of these girls representing America on the world stage, but no less inspiring: the Girls Volleyball Festival in Reno, Nevada where over 9000 girls ages 12 to 18 converged in camaraderie of positive sportsmanship.
Watching the girls in this arena it is easy to see why health care professionals extol the virtues of playing sports. Sports can help kids academically, socially and playing sports is just plain fun. Typically kids who participate in sports develop lasting relationships with a group of friends that share same goals and interests. Research has found that kids that play sports, especially girls, are more likely to have a positive body image and higher self-esteem. They also are less likely to be overweight, take drugs or smoke because they realize the impact that these destructive activities can have upon their performance.
No one understands the intrinsic worth of the annual volleyball festival than its founders. This year the tournament celebrated its 25th year born from a legacy brought about through the spirit of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. That's right - this empowerment of young women was motivated by legislation introduced to increase access for young women to quality athletic training and competition. This is indeed the life breath of the civil rights movement in action motivating today's teens to invest their hearts and souls in the realization of their potential.
Sometimes I think we take the effects of Title IX for granted, but whether watching the finest female athletes in the country competing on a world stage, or watching teenage girls working together to win a high school volleyball match, the benefits become clear. These girls are the women who will lead us to a brighter tomorrow. Girls who are afforded the entitlements of their male counterparts see themselves as vital components of society. They envision a future of endless possibilities in a world where doors are open and they in turn reach for lofty goals. Perhaps they will usher in a future where women have equal pay, equal rights and equal representation without the need for its mandated enforcement. Dare we dream?
Bettina Duval is the founder of CALIFORNIA LIST, a network to elect Democratic women to California state government.