We can’t help but notice the collective burst of joy that’s captured in photographs of Upper Valley teams hoisting up championship trophies. Among the latest: The Lebanon High School girls basketball squad, which just took the Division II title with 24 wins and only one loss. Previously, the girls of Sunapee High took Division IV while extending a winning streak that has reached a remarkable 77 games.
Excellence merits examination. Sunapee’s star center, 6-foot-3 Katie Frederick, had 26 points and 28 rebounds (a rebounding total seen at few levels since Celtics great Bill Russell retired), and the squad had four seniors to help it roll along. “It’s in this team’s blood, its DNA, to win every time we go out on the floor,’’ Frederick said after the game. May it be so in their future endeavors.
For Lebanon, a championship did not seem so inevitable. “I don’t mean this in a negative way, but this wasn’t the best team we’ve ever had in terms of sheer talent,’’ Coach Tim Kehoe told Valley News staff writer Jared Pendak. “But it was, by far, the most consistent. It’s a very smart team that makes good decisions, and it plays excellent man-to-man defense.” Fans of the game know that superior defense is closely correlated with effort, a fine thing for any organization to stress. And the Lebanon girls’ success was exceptional, but not the exception. Since 2010 they have been state basketball champions or runners-up four times.
These celebratory moments remind us when they were rare, when girls sports programs languished. It took Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 to shake up the status quo by declaring, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” No more could boys programs be powerhouses and girls programs be neglected; the law required opportunity to be equal. The New York Times has pointed out that in the year before Title IX was adopted, 310,000 girls and women in America played high school and college sports. But by 2012, the number grew to more than 3,370,000.
So it’s worth celebrating not just Lebanon and Sunapee, but all the Upper Valley schools that give full opportunities to girls who want to take part in athletics. Studies have shown that team sports can bring lifelong benefits. They are associated with better grades, higher self-esteem and may positively influence careers. Yet for some time after Title IX became law, some people resented its requirements.
But the years have settled the question about its worth. Each time a circle of girls stands in the middle of a court and celebrates a hard-earned championship, they are cheered on by fellow students, friends and family — and also by women in their community who had no such opportunity. Here’s another arena in which equal opportunity benefits all and diminishes none.