Whenever anyone brings up the topic of women in sport my mind automatically takes me to a memory that happened over 20 years ago. I was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario and although I have chosen basketball as my career path, my first love was actually the game of baseball. In the early years, T-ball was the thing to do in the summers and since there was no girl’s league I quickly became a part of the “boys of summer”. We all had big dreams to cap our T-ball careers off by playing on a select all-star team called The Ancaster team, well named after the group’s annual trip to a big T-ball tournament in Ancaster Ontario. I was one of the better players for my age group so when it came time to try out for the Ancaster team I was excited and ready to start my pathway to becoming the first female in the major leagues. Little did I know that being a girl would get in the way of this allusive goal.
Tryouts for this team happen in the winter at a local high school gymnasium. I can still remember walking towards the registration desk and seeing the man’s face behind the table drop. “Kenny (my father’s name), we’ve had this conversation, she can’t play on this team.” I was a bit confused as to why I couldn’t try out and why my father hadn’t made me aware of this. I was the right age; I was talented enough, what was the problem? The problem was, that back then, this team had a rule in place. No girls allowed. You need to remember this was the early to mid-90’s and gender equality in sport hadn’t even begun to surface. The man was adamant; I couldn’t play on the team. My 10 year old self turned around, glove under my shoulder and started crying. I took about 5 to 10 steps towards the exit door before my father stopped me and said the infamous words “Catherine Rose” (my actual name that only my parents call me in times of real need, still). “Stop crying, right now. Grab your glove, keep your head up and go in to that gym. They said you can’t play on this team, no one said you can’t go in to tryout.” He was on to something. I quickly swept away the tears, put my shoulders back and head up, walked by the man at the table with the most evil look a 10 year old could give and uttered the words “I’m going in.”
I went in. I played well. Well enough that if they were picking the true top players based off of skill and not gender I would have been on the team. However, it isn’t a rose filled story; I didn’t ever make that team. However, others did.
About 5 or 6 years down the road my now mid teen self-had turned my focus to basketball. We had a summer tournament in the Ancaster area and my father was adamant that we go catch the Soo team play a game. Was this some kind of cruel and unusual punishment for what was one of the most horrifying memories of my youth? It was actually quite the opposite. When we got there I saw something pretty awesome, two females on the team. See, ever since the summer my father brought me to a tryout for a team he knew I wasn’t allowed to make the team removed the no girls allowed rule If they were good enough, they made the squad. Girls 10 years after my experience had no clue that there was a time they weren’t allowed to play. Playing had now become the new norm.
I have told this story many, many times to many, many parents. Yes, my father brought me in to a situation where he knew it was inevitable that failure was coming. He knew it was inevitable that tears and disappointment would flow and yes, I am better for it. It actually has shaped most of what I have pursued since then. It was from what I can recall, the first time I was really told “I couldn’t” because I was a girl and the first time I really stood tall and said “yes I can” in response. I have been told the words I can’t for various reasons hundreds of times throughout my playing, coaching and professional life. It doesn’t mean much, because I know I can. My 10 year old self knew that just as well as my adult self does. As Kenny would say, he created a monster. He’s right.