EDITORIAL: Women in sports shine

Apr. 9—Women's sports are having a moment now, and it's about time.

What an amazing run the women's side of NCAA March Madness has had this year. The Iowa-South Carolina NCAA women's final drew a record 18.7 million viewers, a larger audience than any other women's basketball game in the U.S. and among the largest for any sport.

The increased attention is part of a broader trend that has included women's soccer, the WNBA and a broad range of sports that used to treat women as a sideshow to the men's events — or even excluded women from competition.

Title IX legislation was enacted in 1972, and it reshaped women's sports in schools. The ripple from the changes wrought under the legislation was beyond anything anticipated when it was passed. In large part, Title IX has brought us here, but the road has been long and the journey slow.

Of course, you can point to Iowa's Caitlin Clark topping Pistol Pete Maravich's college scoring record and the sensation around that driving media coverage now. But one could also go back to Chris Evert and Billie Jean King in tennis in the 1970s. Or one may recall the media sensation around Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey in celebration of the point that secured a win for the U.S. women's team in the 1999 Women's World Cup in front of the largest crowd ever for women's soccer. There have been celebrity moments in women's sports before and will be again. But this seems deeper, more essential and more permanent. And overdue.

The change in access to sports for girls and women has firmly taken root. That brings a world of good possibilities. The Women's Sports Foundation cites studies that indicate girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. They are also shown to have a more positive body image and higher psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports. Girls who play sports in school are more likely to graduate and less likely to become pregnant as teens than their peers.

Access to sports brings us not just stars such as Clark and her rival Angel Reese, but also local high school and college athletes who benefit from the access and funding that have come through Title IX.

Think of girls such as Joplin senior Erika Washom, who became the first girl from Joplin to medal at the state wrestling meet — a sport that used to exclude girls altogether. Or former MSSU basketball standout Lacy Stokes who went to Missouri State University and whose final goal only fell short of securing the Bears a berth in the women's NCAA tournament when an opponent's buzzer-beater dropped through the net.

The list of notable area female athletes is longer than any editorial could contain. The point is that these athletes are more than deserving of resources and attention. Our communities and our culture are better for women's sports and for the contributions these girls and women make both on and off the field.