Impact of Title IX | Three generations of women's athletes in one family show how society has changed for the better.
On a casual Wednesday afternoon, 13-year-old Kaya Dumas is surrounded by family at her grandmother’s home in Richmond, B.C. Photo books by Annie Leibovitz are on the coffee table and a hint of wisteria lingers in the air from the garden off the kitchen porch.
It’s an artistic environment created by the family for Nami — that’s what they call grandma Marcia Brodie — who was diagnosed with breast cancer in April.
The house is just a visible bond, created through the frequent trips from Seattle to help care for Marcia as she undergoes chemotherapy treatments. But family members have already cultivated a warrior spirit from Nami through sports.
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Funny, they’re just starting to see it.
“Nami, whose face is covered in wrinkles invisible to me.” — A poem Kaya wrote for school, taking extra time to glue it to orange paper, her grandmother’s favorite color, and adorn it with sparkly butterflies.
When too often women and sports get tangled up in conversations about numbers and statistics — how many fans were in the arena, or the TV ratings — Kaya and her family are examples that it’s simpler — and deeper — than that.
“Oh, you better watch out for number 12,” says Kaya, a 5-foot-7 curly topped basketball player with big dreams.
No. 12 is the family number, starting with her grandfather, John Gillies, and passed through her mother, Michelle Dumas, before landing on Kaya’s back. And now Kaya is simply a young Seattle basketball player, one of hundreds of thousands of girls who play basketball in America. One of the millions who participate in sports nationally.
And even though she might barely understand Title IX, the law that celebrates its 40th anniversary Saturday, she and her family have been influenced by it.
The challenge now, even as Kaya and other children enjoy their opportunities, is to encourage others to join in and play.
“Sport is such an esteem-building way of living your life and having that support on so many levels. Why not encourage it?” asks Marcia, 65, who put all four of her children in sports until they opted out. Two still haven’t, Michelle and her brother Geoff.
“Look at the age that these kids are participating but look at the number of kids that just don’t have the opportunity,” she continues. “That’s where we fall down and draw the line between elitism and just having fun and learning a skill and feeling wanted and needed. … There’s maybe a little too much emphasis on being the best. That kills it for some kids who don’t have parents behind them to say, ‘That’s OK. Just go and have fun.’ “
Encouraged by her mother and grandmother, Kaya doesn’t have to worry about being the best.
During the day, she and her friends snap bubble gum, wearing the latest fashion trends as they walk the hallways of their middle schools. At night, they slip into the latest basketball gear to snap nets.
Not that everything is all buttons and bows. Participation in sports for girls has grown exponentially since Title IX became law in 1972. But there still are inequalities in inner cities, where transportation or financial hardships might prevent children from opportunities to enjoy sports’ benefits.
“The next layer to this (Title IX) is more of a shift in perspective,” says Michelle Dumas, Kaya’s mother, a former athlete and now a coach. “And it’ll change more as women do more. A shift in being on the outside of the window looking in saying, ‘Man, I wish I could do that. Those are elite things going on in there.’ To, ‘Where can I get a ball so I can try, too?’ It’s a shift in culture.”
Michelle Dumas began with an inquisitive letter and willingness to coach a girls team through the A-Plus program at Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club. Her persistence, combined with charitable donations from Microsoft guru Steve Ballmer and hoops star Brandon Roy, helped establish a team that focuses on academics and basketball — in the third year after the launch for two boys teams.
Kaya is a participant, earning a 3.92 GPA and scoring 17 points in a big victory in a game at Nathan Hale High School last month. But her team is no mere spinoff from the boys.
In fact, the girls make sure to include “Lady” in their team rally cheer to make the distinction clear. And no one cares about the old fight to rid women’s sports of that term.
As part of the A-Plus program, there’s a post-practice meal that quickly becomes a talent showcase. One girl provides beats, another raps lyrics and others dance to the music.
Girls will console their teammates if someone had an emotional day at home or school. Michelle, and Eric Bakke, the co-coaches who often act like co-parents to the girls of diverse backgrounds, might prompt conversations by asking questions about life or silly things like which cartoon character they would marry.
“Mine would be Beast,” says Michelle, 41, referring to the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.”
Michelle, who has been divorced for seven years, is raising three children in Seattle. It’s no mystery her daughters, Kaya and 10-year-old Ysabella, and 11-year-old son Xavier, are passionate about basketball.
Michelle was born in Canada but spent time in the United States as a child due to her stepfather’s job as an engineer and surveyor. She played whatever she could, starting with softball but loving basketball the most.
“We had to hit off a tee and I wanted them to throw me the ball,” Michelle says of her time with a California girls softball team. She didn’t like that her team was given T-shirts as uniforms, while her brother’s team had full baseball gear. “I have flashbacks thinking about it. I remember being that age and being annoyed.
“I never touched a basketball until eighth grade. I think about that today when I look at these girls. If I had a basketball when I was in third grade, I just think, an Olympic team, a professional team, no problem. I’m bitter. I would have loved to have had that perspective then. To know there were more options. But if you don’t have the right person giving you the information, your world can be very small. In a lot of ways, my world was small in women’s athletics.”
Michelle played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school in Canada, then played basketball at the University of British Columbia.
Her mother’s sports world was even smaller. Marcia Brodie felt an athletic rush at the age of 9 when she was taught how to swing a golf club at a Vancouver, B.C., golf and country club. But when her first swing sent a ball sailing through a decorative windowpane above the clubhouse, she wasn’t taken in and trained like a future Tiger Woods.
Aside from occasional trips to another local club to play during “kids hours,” Marcia didn’t really play sports, again, until high school, when she fell in love with field hockey and joined a community softball team. But at school she was at the mercy of the skill level of her PE teachers. And if PE was rhythmic gymnastics that quarter, that’s what the group of girls learned.
“Those of us who were just dying to go outside and whack a ball suffered,” she says of the era. “We were made to feel thrilled that we got a T-shirt and a hat. Where the boys were praised. It was a different time of life, it really was.”
Now, through Kaya, Marcia she sees her old instincts to be a rancher, not a rancher’s wife, or athlete and not a passer-by, weren’t so strange after all. Marcia even acted on some desires, working in the Arctic and living off the land at times.
“When I stop to think about where I’ve been and what I’ve done, I’ve done a lot of things that a lot of women wouldn’t even consider,” she says. “I was never sure, until very recently, that it was right, which is weird.”
Through the stories shared on that Wednesday afternoon, Kaya frequently interjects how her friends wouldn’t put up with not having the same uniforms as boys. And imagining a world without the ability to play basketball?
“It would be aggravating and make me feel like I couldn’t get out of a box,” she says.
Kaya shares her own stories with her gift of writing, dreaming of a profession that includes chronicling world travel while playing basketball. It’s a dream that also has natural family roots, given her great-grandfather was a newspaperman in Vancouver.
Her dreams are able to flourish, her mother and grandmother insist, because of the Title IX legislation.
Still, on that spring day, Kaya’s path is unpredictable. For now, she’s simply one benefactor of a movement in which possibilities are endless if given a chance.
“It will,” Kaya says of Title IX truly creating equality in her future. “People aren’t as crazy about not letting girls do things or thinking they’re not as good as boys because so many (women) have already done so much more than before.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans