Some might call it a miracle, others perhaps a correction, but however you name it, it feels good. This week in July, 2016, over 700 female varsity athletes from the University of Michigan received equity in a box on their doorsteps. One of those recipients was me, a member of the Wolverine volleyball team from 1976 to 1980. At that time, the jacket awarded women athletes was not the same as the large block M, leather-sleeved varsity jacket earned by the men. It wasn’t until 1991 that the women began receiving that particular jacket as their varsity award.
But, nowhere on those men’s jackets was an indication of how much money they had earned the athletic department, of how many Rose Bowls they won, or how many times they were televised. The jacket was a symbol of the dedication, commitment, sacrifice, athletic ability, and until 1991, a symbol of ‘The Michigan Man.’ Now, since 1991, all varsity athletes have the same award; and represent the University proudly as ‘Michigan Men and Women,’ eventually all earning the same academic degree, with pride in the equity that is Michigan Athletics.
While equity exists now, those of us who competed 1973-1991 still had the reminder that we were not as worthy as the men to sport the large block “M.” Personally, I had accepted it, thinking that ‘that’s how it was back then’ and occasionally would bring out my 40 year-old jacket as a Throwback Thursday item, a remnant of times not that long ago.
This is where the persistence of women pioneers comes in. What? Women can’t be in the M Club? Then let’s make M Women. What? Women aren’t in the NCAA? We will compete in the SMAIAW (State of Michigan Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women). We will continue to move forward in competition, toward equity, and demand that our University support our efforts. One of those pioneer voices is Sheryl Szady, one of my heroines.
Sportuality defines the word ‘victory’ as ‘to persevere.’ Matthew 7:7 tells us “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” Sheryl and M Women asked, sought, and knocked at the door until they were allowed in. I currently serve on the Letterwinners M Club board of directors with Sheryl, who is a living history of Michigan Women’s athletics, and thoroughly dedicated to speaking for equity across the board. Sheryl’s still, small voice in 1970 has grown into the mouse that roared. She finally found a sympathetic, understanding ear in the new athletic Director, Warde Manuel, who absolutely made it right and offered all women the opportunity to order their own, real, letter jacket.
I write this day in gratitude for the process. It’s multiplied by the fact that I watched my son earn that jacket as a baseball player 27 years after I earned mine. I did not anticipate the emotion that I would fell as I put it on for the first time. The tears that fell on that big block M were filled with joy and gratitude. Some might call it a miracle, but I call it Joy in the Games. I call it Sportual.
By embracing this opportunity to move forward are the leaders and best truly becoming the leaders and the best.
Always, Go Blue!