Let Little Girls Dream of National Championships

Mary Forr Szoch is Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Newsweek on March 17, 2021.

In second grade, my teacher, Sister Rose, had each student create a poster of our favorite things and career aspirations. My favorite subject—math; my favorite color—blue-green; my dream—to play basketball in the NBA.

In 1995, the WNBA did not exist, so I settled for dreaming of playing professional basketball in the men's league.

In sixth grade, that dream changed. I listened as Ruth Riley drained two free throws to seal the college National Championship. A new dream was born—winning a championship while playing basketball for the University of Notre Dame.

I practiced every day but, as a 5'10" center, my prospects of playing at Notre Dame were slim.

After being accepted to the university, I was determined to walk-on the team. For three years, I tried out and failed repeatedly, but I kept working. Every day I spent hours playing pick-up basketball. Most days, I was the only girl, but that did not matter. I knew the best way to get better was to play against bigger, stronger and quicker men.

After three years, thousands of hours of practice and countless tears, the women's team held a campus-wide tryout. Miraculously, I made the team.

The rest of the story is a fairy tale. My first game was on my birthday. On senior day, each of the starters told Coach McGraw I could take their spot. We danced through the NCAA tournament, and after an upset against Tennessee, we advanced to the Final Four. There, we defeated the University of Connecticut, a women's basketball dynasty. We made it to the National Championship.

The day before the championship, our team received emails from women who were members of the Notre Dame Class of 1977—some of whom were the first female athletes at the university. Each e-mail wished us luck. Several recalled a time when there were "No female varsity teams." One wrote about a time when girls' basketball players wore "the discarded boys' uniforms." Another said, "We've come a long way since those first years after Title 9."

Reading those emails, I realized the barriers women overcame to make my dream possible. I recognized the debt I owed these women, whose courage gave future generations of girls the opportunity to play sports.

My sixth-grade dream came true—almost. My dream was to play as we won the National Championship—not sit on the bench as we lost in a heartbreaker. But, without the women of '77, my dream would have died when I became old enough to realize that biological differences made it impossible for me to play in the NBA. If I'd thought I had no real chance of being the best at basketball, I would have stuck with the piano. Instead, I learned to compete, to be a leader and never, ever give up.

Over the last 50 years, thanks to fearless women, women's sports have come so far. We cannot allow that to change in the name of "Equal Rights."

This week, the House will consider H.J.Res.17—a resolution to remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). If the ERA is ratified nationwide, it would eliminate sex distinctions.

Under its state-level version of the ERA, Connecticut allowed transgender boys to play women's sports. Granted, less than 1 percent of youth ages 13-17 identify as transgender, and the ERA only applies to public schools, so its ratification would not mean the end of women's sports. But it would limit a woman's ability to compete, win and above all, aspire to be the best in her sport.

A girl should not have to settle for silver because a biological male won gold, to sit on the bench because a biological male took her spot on the court or to limit her choice of schools because she only wants to compete against girls. Women will win fewer medals, set fewer records and play for fewer National Championships.

This is just one of many reasons the proposed ERA has failed to gain meaningful traction year after year, but for all the little girls who dream of cutting down the nets after winning it all, it is an important one.