Passing the Torch, Blazing the Trail: National Girls & Women in Sports Day 2014
Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director, President’s Council on Fitness, Sport & Nutrition
Today, people from all 50 states will celebrate the 28th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. This year’s theme, “Passing the Torch, Blazing the Trail,” is particularly pertinent because we are two days away from the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics. More than 100 of our 230 winter Olympians traveling to Sochi are females; in London in 2012, the U.S. sent more female than male athletes to participate in the Games. In fact, many referred to London 2012 as “the Women’s Olympics,” because it was the first time that women competed in all of the same sports as men, for 302 total medal events.
Along with the great strides that have been made in the U.S. and on the international stage, female athletics is growing at the high school level as well. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, only one in 27 high school girls participated in athletics. Now, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, one in three girls in America participate, which amounts to approximately 3.2 million female student-athletes. However, that number still falls short compared to males; about half of all boys participate in high school athletics. Examples like these show that we’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do.
Participation in sports does more than teach student-athletes to lead healthy lives. Studies show that girls who play sports have higher levels of self-esteem, a more positive body image and higher states of psychological well-being than those who do not. They’re also more likely to perform better in school, posting better grades and higher graduation rates than girls who are not active in sports. These positive effects continue long after leaving the school gym: 82 percent of female executives played organized sports after elementary school. I am confident that my participation in sports is the reason I am doing what I do today.
Since kids today spend a good portion of their waking hours each day in school, the Council has focused much of our efforts on the school environment. We all know that physical education classes and even recess have been cut in schools across America over the past few decades and we believe there is a direct correlation to the rising childhood obesity rates.
The prevalence of unhealthy children and families prompted the First Lady to start the now widely known initiative – Let’s Move! nearly four years ago. This time last year, during Let’s Move!’s 3rd anniversary celebration in Chicago, the First Lady announced a new sub-initiative for which the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition serves as the federal lead called Let’s Move! Active Schools.
Let’s Move! Active Schools encourages physical educators, parents, and community leaders to become champions for schools and create early, positive experiences for all students. It is our goal to make physical activity part of their daily lives. If we do this, generations of young people across America will begin to adopt healthy habits that last a lifetime. This is just one program we hope will help make a difference but we also know we are not there yet. It will take a collective effort from all of us to create even more opportunities for girls across the nation to achieve 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day where they live, learn and play.
Sports for all remains an important goal that we must work together to achieve. With more female athletes becoming America’s leaders every day, the health and prosperity of our nation depends on it!