Guest commentary: Women in sports aren’t simply breaking through, they’re soaring

Simone Biles inspires with positivity

Olympic gold medalist and world champion gymnast Simone Biles was the featured guest at the WIN for KC Women’s Sports Awards Celebration at the Kansas City Convention Center on Friday. Holly Rowe of ESPN emceed the event.
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Olympic gold medalist and world champion gymnast Simone Biles was the featured guest at the WIN for KC Women’s Sports Awards Celebration at the Kansas City Convention Center on Friday. Holly Rowe of ESPN emceed the event.

Editor’s note: Katie Kuska is a senior at Missouri Valley College who’s also poised to receiver her masters degree in sports management from the University of San Francisco in July. This is a piece she wrote recently during her studies.

Women in sports today aren’t just breaking the glass ceiling, they’re shattering it.

Playing like a girl no longer means you are weak. It means punching like MMA fighter-turned-pro wrestler and actress Ronda Rousey, or swinging a bat with precision like pro softball star Lauren Chamberlain.

Sports has always been a male-dominated industry, but that’s changing. Women’s sports athletes and events are gaining more attention and viewership. In 2015, the Women’s College World Series attracted 31% more viewers than the men’s College World Series. This was a watershed moment for women’s sports — one that had previously seemed inconceivable.

Similar advances are being made across athletics at every level, from NAIA to Division I in college and throughout pro sports. But it has been a 100-year struggle, from women first being allowed to compete in the Olympics at Paris in 1900, to the passage of Title IX in 1972, to Terry Williams Munz being offered and accepting America’s first women’s college athletic scholarship in 1973, for golf at the University of Miami.

Women have made monumental strides, but there is still so much more to accomplish.

Here in Marshall, Missouri, Missouri Valley College fields women’s teams for powerlifting, shooting and wrestling, among others. Jessica Gunderson, an Iowa native and MVC senior, recently made the USA Shooting National Collegiate Team. In June, she’ll have a chance to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Personally, being a woman in a sport thought to be male-dominated is very rewarding,” Gunderson said. “There is no better feeling than being on top of a podium, but being on top of a podium flanked by two men is an even better feeling.

“It reminds me there are no boundaries to this sport. You can’t be benched for being in a wheelchair or having a high-dollar gun, and especially not for being a woman.”

MVC alumni Clarissa Chun and Tonya Evinger are products of the school’s women’s wrestling team. Chun, 37, won the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and today is an assistant coach for USA Wrestling’s national team.

“Opportunity for women in sports continues to grow,” Chun said. “Sports are for everyone. I feel lucky for the opportunities presented to me. They helped me not only achieve the many great moments I’ve had in the sport of wrestling, but also made me the person I am today.”

Chun’s been at the forefront of the modern evolution of women in sports. She grew up in Hawaii, the first state to sanction girls high school wrestling in 1998. She came to MVC one year later when the school became the first college or university in the nation to offer women’s collegiate wrestling scholarships.

“It opened a world of opportunity for me,” Chun said. “Soon I began traveling to compete overseas because I had made the U.S. national team.”

Evinger, Chun’s former MVC teammate, competes professionally in mixed-martial arts. Her UFC featherweight record stands at 19-7.

“When I started wrestling, all we had was competition versus the guys,” Evinger, 37, said. “I worked my way into a wrestling scholarship at MVC after making the U.S. national freestyle team. And from there, my career has come full circle. I now make a living competing on some of the biggest stages on live TV and I make a living doing what I love, something I’ve worked my entire life at.”

These success stories resonate with 85-year-old Lois Youngen. By age 18, the Ohio native was blazing her own trail in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the organization on which the 1992 movie “A League Of Their Own,” starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna, was based.

Today, Youngen is part of the Women in Baseball display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

“I started playing baseball with the neighborhood boys when I was in elementary school,” Youngen recalled. “When I was growing up in the 1940s, a woman’s place was in the home, but I always knew it was at home, first, second and third. ...

“Once Title IX came into being, girls and women have been competing, and they will never look back. Educational institutions will forever be expected to provide high levels of competition for girls and women. This is how it should be.”

These are just a few examples of women who have fought for their place in a sports culture that has changed over time and continues to evolve. Thanks in large part to their strides and those made by thousands of others like them, the future of women’s athletics appears to be in good hands.

And young female athletes today can take pride in “playing like a girl.”

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