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So far as the "social" acceptability of girls' sports at Grosse Pointe, Candler says, "If a girl is great looking, then maybe the guy she is going with likes to see her in sports. If she isn't good looking and popular, sports are not going to help her. In fact they will do the opposite."
Bruce Feighner, the principal of Grosse Pointe North, is not proud of the weakness of his girls' athletic program. However, like so many of his colleagues, he cites the lack of funds as a major reason for the inequality: "Here and in many other communities in Michigan, taxpayer revolts are brewing. It is hard to establish new programs. This admittedly is unjust, but the fault is not entirely or perhaps even principally with the school. The role of girls in sport is determined by society, and until now that role has been an inferior one. There's another practical side to the matter. Grosse Pointe is a very affluent community. If a girl is interested in athletics, the conventional way of developing her skill is to marry a man who has enough money to belong to a country club, a tennis or yacht club."
Feighner's comment may seem cynical but it is perceptive. Except occasionally in track (where the leading female performers are developed in private AAU clubs) the only women's sports in which the U.S. record is respectable, occasionally outstanding, are tennis, golf, skating, skiing and swimming, essentially country-club sports and ones that are considered "ladylike." For the girl who lacks country-club opportunities and inclinations, yet somehow has kept her interest in athletics through high school, the question of what to do next is perplexing. For men, the next stage in the American athletic progression is college, where sporting skills are polished and reputations made. However, college sports presently have little attraction or value for good female athletes.
The woman athlete at the university is made to feel unwelcome and an oddity. Beth Miller is a tall, graceful 21-year-old, by any standards a figure pleasing to the eye. She is also one of the best female athletes in the country, having been the National Junior Women's pentathlon and shotput champion, a standout performer on her Lock Haven (Pa.) State College basketball team, a swimmer, softball player and spelunker. On one weekend last winter, Miller led her basketball team to victory and then hurried to Baltimore where she won the shotput and placed third in the high jump at an AAU indoor meet. Word of her accomplishments was received by a Lock Haven radio sportscaster. The commentator spent maybe 20 seconds describing what Miller had done and ended with the comment, "What an animal she must be."
If a talented woman withstands these pressures and decides to become a serious athlete, she often has to cope not just with insinuations but with slanderous gossip. Jo Ann Prentice is a sharp-tongued, sharp-minded woman who has earned her living for 17 years on the LPGA tour. Asked about the "social" life on the tour, Prentice replied to the euphemistic question in her soft Alabama drawl. "This is kind of how it is. If you get into town at the beginning of the week and you meet some guy whose company you enjoy and have dinner with him once or twice, the gossips start asking what kind of tramps are these babes on the tour. If you stay at the motel where everybody else on the tour has checked in, then the question is what are those girls doing back in those rooms alone."
The vicious paradox that Prentice outlines—women athletes are either heterosexual wantons or homosexual perverts or, simultaneously, both—is the culmination of all the jokes and warnings that began when an 11-year-old wanted to play sandlot football with her brothers and was teased, in good fun, about being a tomboy.
As a result, a great many girls simply avoid sports completely. Others try to compromise, accommodating their athletic desires to the attitudes of society. They continue to play games, but play them nervously and timidly, attempting to avoid appearances and enthusiasms that might be construed as unladylike.
The few women who survive the pressure may be scarred in various ways, but there are compensations. Jack Griffin, though he has worked for 25 years in relative obscurity, is regarded by many who know of him as one of the most distinguished athletic coaches in the nation. He has coached boys and girls, from grade-schoolers to post-collegians, in swimming, track, basketball and football. Working only with the youth of the small Maryland city, Frederick, he has helped to develop an inordinate number of national and international class athletes. He has been an Olympic coach and is currently a member of the Olympic Women's Track and Field Committee. "I enjoy coaching both sexes," says Griffin, "but strictly from a coaching standpoint, I have noted one important difference between them. Desire is an intangible quality which you like to see in any athlete. Coaches of men's teams often single out an individual athlete and say his most valuable characteristic is his desire. You seldom hear girls' coaches make this sort of comment. The reason, I think, is that any girl or woman who is very much involved in athletics tends to have an extraordinary amount of desire, not only to excel in her sport but to excel as a person. It is so common with the girls that we tend to overlook it, accepting it as normal. I suppose in a sense it is normal for them. The way things are in this country, any girl who perseveres in sport has to be not only an exceptional athlete but an exceptional human being."