Of Boys and Girls and High School Sports

My youngest is on the local high school volleyball team and she’s doing great. I’m a proud Dad and show up for all their games, whether at home or to the further reaches of Colorado oforn away games. The volleyball season is pretty darn short, however, just a few months, then it’s over for the entire school year. Which is a bit odd, really, since games are always indoors so they could certainly play throughout the year. But that’s another story…

high school volleyball

Generally the experience of going to other high schools is fun, a chance to meet other parents, see other facilities and watch some good volleyball while cheering for our team. Some of the newer high schools are gorgeous too, with really excellent facilities and sports programs coupled with enthusiastic and respectful parents. Colorado has CHSAA which its code of conduct to help remind students and parents that it’s a game, it’s for fun and they don’t need to be mean to be supportive of their team. Most all of the students I interact with are polite and pleasant too, even if they’re mostly focused on their interaction with peers, not us visiting parents. Totally understandable, really.

Yesterday, however, we headed northeast to a smaller Colorado city for a match and it was less than a great experience. Worse, not only did my daughter feel uncomfortable at the school, but they were even warned by the coach beforehand. I am choosing not to name the school and the photos included here are not of the school in question.

high school facadeWhile on the bus up to the school, the coach warned the girls that it was a “buddy school”. That meant that the girls had to go everywhere with someone else. Heading to the bathroom? Need to grab something off the bus? Snack at the concessions? Just want to get some fresh air? No solo activity, girls, always make sure you have at least one other girl with you. Because the boys are apparently not entirely kind and polite to girls at this particular school.

My daughter K- felt that energy too where some boys whistled at them when they were walking into the gym pre-game, and where there were some crude comments muttered as they walked past. Nothing “actionable”, just that general air of objectified girls and crass boys that seems to be too much of our national cultural identity.

Fortunately the overall experience was positive and the girls – and us parents – had a good time at the match. Girls learn to deal with this sort of thing, so I’m sure I am making more of a big deal out of it than any of the team or coaches.

But I couldn’t help think about the national debate surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Accused of being a sexist lout as a high school boy and college fraternity member by various women, the debate seems to center not just on the reliability of traumatic memory but on whether crass behavior from teen boys is acceptable or not. That “boys will be boys” energy is why it was not big deal for the boys at this Coloradan high school to be whistling at the girls on my daughter’s volleyball team. It was why afterwards my girl admitted to me that she “didn’t feel safe or comfortable” at the school. Not 35 years ago. This week. Still.

And that’s what we as a culture need to really work on fixing. It’s not about trust, it’s about respect. Everyone, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs should be able to feel safe and respected in our increasingly diverse communities. In my opinion, that’s the true promise of the United States, to be a safe, respectful community for all.

Which leads to my question: what are you doing to help achieve that sense of respect and safety for people you don’t like and perhaps don’t approve of? Because that’s really the challenge of it all.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some day no child has to feel uncomfortable due to their identity, gender or ethnicity?

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