By: Katie Maher
Each year, National Girls and Women in Sports Day recognizes the accomplishments of women in college sports, and brings awareness to the need for gender equality in athletics. This year, the NCAA paid special attention to recognizing the progress that Title IX has made toward ensuring that all women have access to sports. In fact, the theme of National Girls and Women in Sports Day 2017 was expanding opportunities for female athletes, and promoting the advancement of female athletes to the college level.
This past week, a high school senior from Chandler, Arizona truly embodied the mission of Title IX, when she became the first female athlete to earn a football scholarship to an NCAA school at the Division II level or higher.
Becca Longo, a kicker for her high school’s football team, recently signed a letter of intent to play football at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. In doing so, Longo made history, as Division I and II football have been previously reserved for male athletes – not because women weren’t allowed, but because none had tried.
When asked about his signee being the first woman in college football history awarded an NCAA football scholarship, the Adams State coach said, “I don’t look at it that way. I see her as a football player who earned it.” In recruitment conversations between Becca and the Adams State staff, gender wasn’t discussed. Rather, they focused on her skill and athletic merit. Says Longo of Head Coach Timm Rosenbach, “he didn’t treat me like a girl,” he treats me like a football player.”
Aside from the historical significance of the achievement, Longo’s athleticism serves as a reminder of the female athlete’s strength and capabilities. During her most recent season, Longo connected on “30 extra points on 33 attempts, and made her lone field goal attempt.” This feat is a noteworthy triumph in the world of high school football, and demonstrates a woman’s ability to perform at the level of a man.
Becca Longo’s story is one of bravery and perseverance. She took something that she loved, and pursued it at a historically unprecedented level, ignoring the criticisms of those who doubted her. It’s women like Longo who reaffirm the need for gender equality in college sports. Without Title IX and the efforts of the NCAA, athletes like Becca Longo wouldn’t have the opportunity to compete at the highest level, and at the same time, women like Longo give Title IX advocates a reason worth fighting for.
It’s one thing to state that equal opportunities exist for women in sports; however, this statement lacks significance if women don’t explore these opportunities and take risks. By doing just that, Longo paves the way for young female athletes to challenge the gender norms of college athletics, and explore their passions regardless of society’s preconceived idea of what defines a male vs. female athlete.