"There's one thing that really doesn't have anything to do with school," said one girl. "If you've got a brother and he's playing football or basketball your folks are going to drive him back and forth to practice and change dinner hours for him. But if you're a girl, your mother says, 'Be home at 5 to set the table.' "
Early on, girls learn to expect and put up with parental edicts and insinuations that the games they play are unimportant. When she is 15 or 16 the campaign against a girl's athletic interest takes an uglier turn, being directed against her appearance and sexuality. The six C.M. Russell girls were attractive teen-agers. Most of them dated boys who were athletes. "The guys on the teams tease us about being jocks," said a tiny lithe gymnast, "but they are just having fun. They know we work hard and I think they are proud of what we do."
"The mean ones," said a basketball player, "are those who aren't in sports themselves. They don't want to see a girl play because it makes them look bad. They want her to sit in the stands with them. So they try to put us down. They'll come up in the hall and give you an elbow and say, 'Hey, stud.' "
"Some girls are bad, too," a hurdler noted. "They'll say, 'Aren't you afraid you'll get ugly muscles in your legs?" "
"Girls in sports are more careful about how they look," said the gymnast. "We wear skirts more than other girls because we are worried about being feminine."
Some authorities consider the word "feminine" a derogatory term. "When we say 'feminine,' " says Dr. David Auxter of Slippery Rock State College, "we mean submissive, a nonparticipant, an underachiever, a person who lacks a strong sense of self-identity, who has weak life goals and ambitions."
Grosse Pointe ( Mich.) North High School has a far different and lesser girls' sports program than that of C.M. Russell in Montana. There are two official girls' interscholastic sports, gymnastics and track. These are financed by a $2,200, hopefully annual, grant from a local boosters club. In contrast, boys receive about $20,000 in school funds. But in at least one respect girl athletes are treated better at Grosse Pointe than in many other places. Girls are awarded school letters that they may wear on a sweater. In many other localities, players are rewarded with inconspicuous pins, printed certificates, or nothing. In practice, winning and being able to wear a letter sweater is an empty honor for Grosse Pointe girls. "Not very many girls wear their letter," says Pam Candler, a senior who is the Michigan girls' trampoline champion and was runner-up last spring in the state tennis championships. "Mostly only freshmen or sophomores—because they don't know what the score is."
What is the score?
"Well, a lot of people think it is freakish for a girl to wear a letter sweater. Like she's a jock. I'm kind of proud of the girls who have enough courage to wear them, but I don't. It would make me feel funny. I guess I've been brainwashed."
"I don't like to think that there are male chauvinists, but I guess there are," says Jan Charvat, another gymnast. "It is degrading that we have to act in a certain way just because we're in sports. A girl ought to be free to be what she is, without people cutting her up."