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Carol Anne Costa: Title IX, Tennis + The Power Of Women

Thursday, July 04, 2013


The powerful victories of champions like Serena Williams were made possible by women tennis pioneers like Billie Jean King.

As we celebrate our independence, rebellious nature and the wonder that is these United States of America, I raise a glass to all the rebels. Like the salmon mightily swimming upstream, it is in our nature to fight against the status quo, to make the country we share even better and yes, almost always root for the underdogs. Thankfully, it is who we are.

So today on this 4th of July I remember and honor the Minutemen and the rebels who fought the Goliath and persevered to design and implement the world’s most superior nation. I thank those rebels and pioneers for instilling in us the will, desire and boldness to always keep America moving forward (albeit not always in harmony).

Since gaining our independence we have fought numerous and epic battles on the home front—slavery, civil rights, desegregation, immigration, prohibition, voting rights, women’s rights, expansion of social programs, labor laws, environmental protection, climate change and on and on and on. I am certain our clashes and campaigns will continue, as what unites us often divides us and we seem ever-eager to channel our rebellious nature and clamor for our positions. In the voting booth, in the free press, on Capitol Hill, in statehouses, courthouses and town halls and community houses everywhere, we embrace the crusades and roll with the outcomes!

This One’s for the Girls…

But, today I salute all those rebels for whom I reserve a special honor, as they remain very close my heart. They are the women led by Tennis Hall of Famers, Billie Jean King and Title IX advocate, Peachy Kellmeyer, who spurred a mutiny and delivered true equality in sport to every girl in this nation, from little league, to high school, to collegiate and to the professional ranks.

So with that I say, “This one’s for the girls!”

In 1973 on the heels of the June 23, 1972 passage of Title IX, an act which protects Americans from discrimination based on gender in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, the transformation of women’s athletics began. With that, I cheer those mutineers who changed everything for this woman and so many more. In 1973, athletic competition opportunities for young girls were few and heavy with stereotypes and gender bias. I can close my eyes and recall some real pearls uttered by my male classmates, “Why are you such tomboy?” “Girls can’t wear hockey skates. Hockey is only for boys." “You should take up ballet,” and my personal favorite…”Girls can’t throw hard." (By the way, I won the Presidential Physical Fitness Award Softball Throw in 7th grade out-throwing all the boys! Revenge is indeed sweet!)

Every revolution needs foot soldiers…. Rebels with a cause!

The battle to deliver equality to girls on the field of play had its foot soldiers and it is on the shoulders of those women that each of the following generation of girls was hoisted.

Forty years ago, 9 women banded together against the odds and with a dollar and a dream formed the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA); without their enormous efforts, women in every sport would have found a much harder journey to achieve their athletic dreams. Those original 9 women of the WTA were: Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville and Billie Jean King. This special, brave, pioneering and visionary band of sisters set in motion the wave that would produce a model for all women’s sports organizations, and ultimately create what is the premiere professional sports association for female athletes.

For me, these women are rebels, forward thinkers, and heroines. I strongly urge all young ladies to take a peek at this history, no, I ‘m sorry, herstory, as you will better for it. Without their individual and collective courage, gender equality in sport and business might very well be somewhat behind today. Thankfully for us girls, they pushed the envelope.

Put up or shut up

This year also marks the 40th Anniversary of the “Battle of the Sexes,”  a clear peak on the arch of United States history. The match was held in Houston, TX, on September 20, 1973. The challenge issued to King by Bobby Riggs came at time when America was struggling with equality for women on so many levels. Let me say, memories of that match for me remain vivid. Tuning in that Philco TV and rooting so hard for Billie Jean to “shut him up” just kept running through my head. For those who do not remember Bobby Riggs, he was a character, a showman and his chatter was constant. When Billie Jean emerged victorious over Riggs in a straight sets win 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3, this 13-year-old girl felt nothing but pride, and I could not wait to rub it in to all the boys at school, and did I ever!

Ironically, it was the sexism of Riggs that provided the forum for this national catharsis, and, I feel help to move the Title IX victory to better and quicker implementation across the country. It was Title IX that started the revolution, with the mantle picked up by the WTA and Billie Jean King that forwarded the movement so today little girls can take up a stick, a club, a racquet, an oar, a bat, a shot put or whatever they wish in order to play and compete. And, the only battle she may encounter is with her own ability and tenacity of her opponent(s). We’ve come a long way baby!

A fabulous opportunity to re-live herstory…

Happy 40th Anniversary to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and the Battle of the Sexes. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the historic event, this summer Newport's International Tennis Hall of Fame will host the first and only viewing of the actual event telecast, which has been donated to the Hall of Fame for a one-time showing. Guests will enjoy a unique experience of listening to commentary from King as she re-lives the history-making event. I am pretty sure it will be my 13-year-old self in attendance. Tickets are $30 per person. The telecast will be screened on Sunday, July 14 at 8 p.m. on the big screen at the Casino Theatre at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. For tickets go here. Happy 4th to all and here’s to the rebels!

A Rhode Island High School Tennis Coach Hall of Famer Carol is also a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine. 


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