On Female Athleticism with Arsema
My name is Arsema and I am excited to be joining Girls In The Lead’s team.
A little background about myself; I was born and raised in Minnesota but am currently attending school in St. Louis. Growing up, I absolutely loved playing sports with my siblings and looked at it as more of a way to have fun, rather than stay active. When my family moved into a neighborhood that had a grassy field close by, my brothers and I spent nearly every day there playing the traditional football and soccer but also new sports that we created with our neighbors.
Eventually, I outgrew the neighborhood scrimmages and, with help from my school district, joined school teams at the junior high level, most notably football and basketball. I was a football fanatic. I watched the Minnesota Vikings every Sunday, played constantly with classmates, and even chose a football player to dress up as for my elementary school biography project. The feeling of excitement I felt for being part of an “official” football team was unmatched. However, my football career was cut short when I quit following my first season. You see, Title IX guaranteed that because there was no female football team, I was allowed to play on the boys’ team. It did not protect me from the hurtful rumors my teammates would spread about me off the field. Nor did it protect me from my coach making me sit out certain drills to make my teammates more comfortable or giving me less playing time compared to other kids of my caliber. When it came time to consider a second football season, even though I had grown into a stronger person due to the betrayal I felt from my teammates and coach, I decided to let football go.
While the less than welcoming response from my team and coach led me to stop playing football, I still continued basketball where I enjoyed the camaraderie that came with playing with other girls. Unfortunately, when my sister sought to join the same girls basketball team a year after I left, the school district decided that girls basketball was too pricey and scrapped the program. They maintained that there was a “girls basketball club,” where girls could come in after school and shoot a basketball around, but it wasn’t the same. My sister was heartbroken.
Today when I look back at the opportunities I was given, I realize both how fortunate I was to have been shaped by my experiences in sports and how much more needs to be done. My football history made me tougher and surer of myself. It was sad that I felt the need to leave the organized team after a season, but I valued myself enough to know I was not being treated fairly and could do better. Basketball helped me feel like I had a true community. As a kid, I was always playing with my mostly male neighbors. Having a space to enjoy what I loved with other girls made me realize that the two were not exclusive- you could be both girly and strong.
This theme of strength in female athleticism is something I immediately noticed when I was first introduced to Girls in the Lead. I feel that the activities I was a part of could have greatly benefitted from the advice Girls in the Lead gives on building inclusive athletic programs. My confidence in Girls in the Lead and their message is why I jumped at the chance to blog for them and share the stories of women around the world. I am excited to begin this journey and hope you will enjoy reading my posts in the future!
Arsema Belai, (GIL Contributor)