Play Hard. Have Fun. Keep Reading!
BY BARBARA CARROLL ROBERTS
When I played competitive high school sports in the early 1970s, our three P.E. teachers were our only coaches, we wore our hideous seafoam-green cotton gym suits for every sport because the school provided no sport-specific uniforms (as they did for the boys), and our basketball teams were only allowed in the gym if the boys weren’t using it – otherwise, we had to play and practice outside on the blacktop.
And one other thing – there wasn’t a single book in our school library about a girl who played sports.
Not a single one.
No wonder I didn’t like to read.
But then something happened. Congress passed the 1972 Education Amendments Act, which included a short section called Title IX. And Title IX said that schools and colleges could no longer discriminate against girls and women, nor exclude them from any “educational program,” including competitive sports.
My high school teammates and I didn’t see immediate changes to our sports programs after Title IX was passed – though we did get slightly better gym suits – but by the time my daughter began playing sports, I was delighted to see all the opportunities Title IX had opened up for sports-loving girls like her.
Naturally, I expected to also see an explosion in the number of books about girls who played sports displayed on bookstore and library shelves. I mean, with so many girls playing in youth leagues and school leagues, there had to be lots of books available about athletic girls, right?
So many years after Title IX, when I went looking for books for my daughter – books about athletic girls like her – I found very few.
That’s when I decided to write Nikki on the Line.
Nikki on the Line is about thirteen-year-old Nikki Doyle who is passionate about playing basketball. She’s always been one of the best players in her county-wide league, but when she’s chosen to play on a club team with bigger, stronger, faster girls, she’s no longer one of the best players. And for the first time, she’s questioning her ability, struggling to figure out where she fits in, and worrying that she’ll never be able to compete at this new, higher level. Nikki realizes that if she wants to keep playing, she’ll have to learn new skills, which means hours and hours of hard work, on her own, outside of team practice.
Is it worth it, Nikki wonders? All that hard work? Because even if she can find the courage to attempt her new skills in a game, with all her teammates and their parents watching, there’s no guarantee of success.
I chose to write about a girl like Nikki, rather than a girl who is the tallest and fastest and always the best, because the reality is that most of us are not the star of the teams we play on. And as we move up to higher levels of competition, there are fewer and fewer stars. This can be a difficult reality for young athletes to face, and I wanted to explore how a girl like Nikki would deal with it.
I hope many young athletes will enjoy Nikki’s story – enjoy reading about a girl like themselves who loves sports. And when they encounter their own obstacles and difficulties, I hope they’ll find inspiration in Nikki’s perseverance and determination to keep playing the game she loves.
Nikki on the Line isn’t only about basketball. It’s also about family and friends and impossible-to-complete school projects. But at its heart, it’s about a girl who is an athlete, finding out who she can be.
The Awesome Sports Project is proud to support stories about girls and women who play sports. Nikki on the Line is one such story.