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Just Jillian… | Our Grandmothers & Mothers: Laying the Foundation for Girls to have a Sporting Chance

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching (Sunday, May 9th), I thought I would take a moment to think about where we have come as a nation to support girls and women’s participation in sport. With the recent passing of my 90 year old grandmother, many memories come flooding back yet the ones I cherish the most are connected to the hours I spent at her house prior to my high school basketball games. Although she did not formally participate in sports during her life, she stayed physically active through water aerobics and daily walks as well as being a basketball fan. In particular, she was extremely supportive of me and my sporting endeavors. Similarly, my mother is considered a pre-Title woman whose only opportunity to stay active was through cheerleading or the pom pom squad in which she choose the later. However, she admits given the option to participate in the sports reserved for her male counterparts there’s no doubt she would have seized the opportunity.

Although there have been many women who have broken gender norms and expectations by competing in sports traditionally reserved for men, the fact remains that since the passage of Title IX the number of academic, athletic, and employment opportunities for girls and women has dramatically increased. As a result, we have seen—either personally or in the lives of our sisters, daughters, and nieces—how Title IX has helped women compete at all levels, producing real benefits for them later in life.

What’s even better news is that just last week, the Obama Administration overturned a controversial Title IX policy that was put into place by the Bush Administration in 2005. The guidelines issued in the new ‘Dear Colleague’ letter shifted the burden of proof back on university leaders and away from female students by no longer considering survey results alone to be a sufficient way to demonstrate the level of interest for female students to participate in sport, which is just one of the three ways a school receiving federal funding can be in compliance with the law. As Vice President Joe Biden stated during his announcement of the Administration’s new policy, “Making Title IX as strong as possible is a no-brainer. What we’re doing here today will better ensure equal opportunity in athletics, and allow women to realize their potential—so this nation can realize its potential”—a potential that women have been fighting for decades and have known all along.

As you begin to explore how you will honor and celebrate your mother and grandmother this Mother’s Day, remember we stand on their shoulders and we are who and where we are today, both as women and athletes, because of their strength, courage, and foresight to break down the sporting barriers. Thanks to all the grandmothers and mothers!!!

CALL 2 ACTION: Unsure of your mother and/or grandmother’s sporting background? Well, ask…begin by simply asking, what sport or activity, if any, did you participate in when you were a girl (K-12)? And, see where the conversation takes you. Again, this is another way to unearth the unheard stories while also learning more about a family member.

A NOTE TO MY READERS: I apologize in advance for the change in topic as Alana Nichols and I have had difficulty coordinating schedules for our interview; however, things keep getting even more exciting for her as she recently accompanied First Lady Michelle Obama along with 2010 Olympians Shani Davis and Hannah Kearney and 2010 Paralympian Heath Calhoun to a school visit to promote the “Let’s Move” Initiative. You can check it out here. My plan is to share my interview with her in my next post (keep your fingers crossed). :-)

Jillian Ross

Jillian Ross is a researcher, writer and learner determined to make a difference in the world. Her work has focused on Title IX and gender equity; the intersections of identity (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.), especially that of Black queer female student-athletes; creating safe schools and spaces for students and teachers; and more recently, educational and teacher leadership with a focus on school leadership for social justice. Although she no longer participates in competitive sports, Ross still considers herself an athlete. Her love of sport began with basketball and track, and has expanded to her current love of hiking in Tilden, working out at the YMCA, and biking around the Bay Area. Ross works and resides in Berkeley, CA with her partner of 7 years.

Ross writes a women-focused blog addressing the just & unjust in the world at