GIRLS IN THE GAME

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” -Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972

Reese Dorsey, 16, was a high school freshman when she went out for the Danville High School football team. She had been playing soccer for years, but when her family moved to the small, population 1,100 town of Danville, Ohio, there was no soccer team. Danville High couldn’t field one, there weren’t enough players.

Rather than sit out high school sports, Dorsey wanted to find a way to play. Her brother played football, and she’d go to his games and watch the kicker and think to herself, “I could do that someday.” And Dorsey’s father, Michael, remembers watching the Danville coaches always choose to go for a two-point conversion rather than gaining the extra point with a kicker.

“Wouldn’t it be cool,” Michael Dorsey remembers thinking, “if they would have a girl that would be their kicker?” And that’s how the ball got rolling.

Passed by Congress in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments, Title IX opened the doors for women wanting to compete in athletics at federally-funded institutions at the elementary, high school, and collegiate level. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the law requires that both men and women be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports, receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation, and equal treatment in the areas of equipment, scheduling, and coaching, among others.

Part of the stipulation to provide equal opportunities to participate means that a girl must be allowed to try out for the boys’ team if there is no girls’ team for her to play on in that sport, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. For many young women, this means that their schools and extracurricular programs are legally obligated to provide them the opportunity to play sports like football or hockey - which have been gender-segregated for so long due to, as VICE News columnist Rick Paulas puts it, being “created during a time when women were expected to be at home preparing dinner and taking care of the six children.”

For Reese Dorsey, Title IX was her way into high school football. But the story’s not over there. For 11-year-old hockey phenom Shannon O’Connor, the 45-year-old law broke down barriers in the sport of ice hockey, allowing her and several other girls to play for Athens Youth Hockey Association (AYHA) in Athens, Ohio. Shannon, along with the other girls she plays with, didn't have to fight for their right to play; by 2017, they were welcomed by the AYHA with open arms. The Vienna, West Virginia, native travels 45 minutes a night to come practice in Athens, and spends the rest of her time traveling to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to play on a female ice hockey travel team.

This girl is good, and she’s only going to get better.

“To be the first girl in the NHL,” O’Connor says, “is my best dream in hockey.” But O’Connor doesn’t want to be the only girl there. She says that most girls her age think that hockey is hard, but it’s not hard if you give it a chance.

Her mother, Tamara O’Connor, a lifelong hockey fan, is grateful for the support they’ve received from AYHA. She says Shannon has “a locker room full of brothers” as her teammates, and “they stick up for her, they have her back” if someone from another team says something.

For Reese Dorsey and Shannon O’Connor, their gender is the least of their worries. They’re just two other kids out there on the field or the ice to play the game.