I’ve always been a tomboy. As a kid, I liked getting scrapes and bruises playing kickball and tetherball with the boys a lot more than playing with makeup with the girls. I was one of the best tetherball players and I scored the most during kickball.
But in sixth grade all I saw were boys’ sports teams at school. Whenever I passed by the girls’ gym after school I saw the boys inside shooting hoops and it was the boys’ soccer team kicking and passing on the field. I was jealous.
So instead of playing sports after school, I went home and watched TV. I also started hanging around with girls who didn’t take school seriously. I stopped caring as much about my homework and I got my first Ds on my report cards. My mother would ask me, “Why are your grades so low?” I would tell her that my teachers had made mistakes with the grading. Since she spoke very little English, she wasn’t able to confirm this with my teachers. By the end of sixth grade, I wasn’t motivated about school at all.
It was so unfair that boys had all these opportunities. I felt like everything—sports, politics, some households—was dominated by men and I wanted to prove that girls are just as good as guys, even better sometimes. But to do that girls need opportunities to play sports in school, otherwise some of them will give in to the stereotype that men are better.
One day in November of seventh grade, I saw three sweaty girls walking after school. I asked them why they were so tired. “Drill team,” one of the girls replied. I asked if I could try out and they said yes. I was excited that I had found something to keep me active.
I was doing fine when practice started, but then I turned to my left and saw three girls on the ground doing splits. I didn’t think I could do splits. When practice ended the coach told us about the uniforms. They were small, sparkly, royal-blue dresses. The length was about 5 inches above the knee and when a girl twirled, the skirt would rise up higher and show the bottom part of the uniform that was stitched to the skirt, which looked like underwear. I thought about all the people who would see us perform: men, women and other kids our age or older. I have been raised to respect myself, and the idea of showing that much skin made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to join the drill team. This wasn’t playing sports; this was cheering for sports. I quit drill team two days later and I felt like I would never play sports for my school.
A few months later I had a conversation that brought back my passion for sports. I was sitting next to Mr. Martinez, a teacher’s aide at my middle school, and told him about my drill team experience. I asked him if he knew how I could join a city league to play a sport.
“Why don’t you join the softball team?” he asked me. I didn’t even know what softball was, let alone that the school had a team. I thought “soft” ball sounded too girly. But he explained that softball was like baseball and the team had girls and boys. Now, I was excited.
Tryouts were that day after school. During sixth period my stomach felt weird and I couldn’t pay attention. Would I be able to dive to catch balls as well as the guys? Would I be able to hit the ball?
We played on concrete
For practice we met on the concrete PE field in front of the soccer/baseball field. Why did we have to play on concrete when there was a field right next to it? Then it hit me—this is a mixed-gender team. The boys’ soccer team gets a decent place to play while we don’t. It made me feel as if the school didn’t care about our team. When Mr. Martinez arrived at the “field” at 3:30 p.m., he began unloading the equipment from his car: gloves, three buckets of balls and five bats. I asked, “Why do you carry this around with you? Can’t you leave it at school?”
“This is all mine,” he said. He told me that he had paid for all of the equipment with his own money.
So the school gave the boys’ soccer and basketball teams equipment, fields and three coaches, while we didn’t get anything. The only girls’ sport that seemed to get money was the drill team. Even though I was frustrated, that first practice went great. I learned how to throw the ball and field grounders. Mr. Martinez even called me “the rookie MVP.” When I got home I couldn’t wait to tell my mom how my day had gone.
During the next two years, I became one of the two best players, along with my teammate Miguel, and I was definitely the most competitive player on the team. I got mad when the coach said that someone else on the team was playing better than me. Miguel and I always tried to hit more home runs than each other. I loved it. And at the end of eighth grade we won a tournament against other middle schools in the area.
Being part of the softball team wasn’t only about getting to play sports though. I started liking school again and my grades improved a lot. I went from Cs and Ds in sixth grade to almost all As in eighth grade.
When I started high school I was nervous before softball tryouts, because I thought everyone would be better than me. But on the first day the coach called me over during a drill and said, “You’re good, you know that? You have potential.”
I was excited that I had made a good impression. I made the varsity team, but unfortunately the team didn’t get enough money from the school. We had helmets that didn’t fit and didn’t have any padding inside. The area where we practiced was too lumpy to play games on, we didn’t have dugouts and there were bald spots on the grass. We had to play all of our home games at other schools. Meanwhile, the boys’ baseball field is awesome. The grass is green, the dirt is smooth and they have dugouts. I was mad that we didn’t have good equipment and a place to play, but I still loved being on the team.
How would we slide in shorts?
Another example of how we didn’t get enough support was uniforms. We got new jerseys that everyone liked but instead of pants we got silky, loose shorts. We complained to the coach that they were too short and that we couldn’t play as aggressively in them, like diving for balls and sliding while stealing bases. One girl slid and after the umpire called her safe, she looked at her leg and there was blood mixed with dirt from the field. I never dove for balls because I didn’t want to get all cut up.
Our coach said that we got shorts because they were affordable. Again, it made us feel like the school didn’t care about girls’ sports. My teammates and I decided that everyone would buy their own pants. They were about $30 a pair, and after we got them some girls started sliding into bases again.
Freshman year our team sucked. We won only two games. Not everyone on the team tried hard all the time, even with the new pants. I think that the lack of support from the school is one of the reasons not everyone tried hard. They probably felt like if the school wasn’t going to give them anything, then they didn’t have a reason to try their best. We had one home game on our rocky practice area, but there was no place for the fans to sit and many of them ended up leaving. If there were bleachers I think more people would come out to the games.
As we kept losing and losing there were times I wanted to quit. If not all of my teammates were going to work hard, why should I do this at all? Every week I would complain to my mom that my teammates didn’t try hard enough and that the school didn’t provide good equipment. But my mom always said not to worry about everybody else and to focus on being the best player I could be. She would ask me if I really wanted to be on the team even with all the problems and I always said, “Yes, I do.” She said that if I really loved something I should stick with it and find the good in it. I still loved playing so I couldn’t quit. I didn’t want to become the girl I was in sixth grade who didn’t care about anything. And I was proud of the 4.0 GPA I’d earned.
Sophomore year things improved. The school bought us new helmets with padding, batting tees and balls and we got a new coach. More players tried harder and we won four games. Getting new equipment and a new coach who knew more about softball made it feel like the school began to care, but we still didn’t have a field to play on.
Later in 10th grade my teammate Yarely wrote an article in the school newspaper about how girls’ sports were second class compared to boys’ sports. I was glad someone tried to bring attention to the unequal treatment. Unfortunately, nothing changed.
We’re supposed to get a field one day
To find out more about why the softball team seemed to get less support, I interviewed my school’s former athletic director, Mr. Minix. He told me that in 2004 the Los Angeles Unified School District started a $2.7 million building project at my school that included a new gym floor, new bleachers for the gym, lights for the football field, restrooms in the locker rooms and moving the tennis courts to make space for a softball field. But after Green Dot, a charter school company, took over the school in 2008, they stopped working on the improvements because no one knew who would pay for it or be in charge, he said. The good news is that he said the work has started back up but he doesn’t know when it will be finished.
After the interview I realized that I was making judgments based on what I assumed without getting the facts. But I still feel like we’re not getting enough support.
If the school supported us more, then maybe more girls would join the sports teams and learn the things I’ve learned, like teamwork, responsibility and leadership. When I started playing softball in middle school I had a huge ego and I cared more about my performance than the team’s. I used to get angry at my teammates who weren’t as good as me, but I would never help them.
But freshman year, I saw how Alejandra, the team captain, always helped our teammates by showing them how to throw the ball properly and how to swing the bat. I realized that I should do the same thing because that would help my teammates get better.
When the coach isn’t at practice, I take over and run the drills. I show my teammates how to hit better and explain rules. I like doing this because it feels like they’re looking up to me and if they see me help teammates, they’ll do the same thing.
I needed sports when I was younger. Playing made me more confident and showed me that I’m not just an average girl. Every girl deserves that opportunity.