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Monday, January 26, 2009

Update: First Post of 2009

Happy New Year! (ok, so I’m a little late!)I realize it has been awhile since I last posted and I have been working behind the scenes to put together the fundraising trailer (check back to view this soon), business plan and proposal that will lead to raising the money needed to make this film! I am dedicated to making sure this happens because I really believe this story needs to be told! The more I learn about Kenya and Catherine's journey to get to where she is from where she came from, the more I am convinced of this. In a country where education for women was not a given right as it is here in the US, where opportunities for girls were nowhere near equal to those for boys and where athletics for girls was certainly not a priority, Catherine's perseverance in her goals is an inspiration. How lucky girls are here in the United States to have Title IX! I'm sure many people don't even know what Title IX is and like myself, just take it for granted that girls are entitled to the same opportunities as boys, even if that doesn't always happen. But it actually is the law!

I have always known that Billie Jean King has been a pioneer in making sure women and girls have equal opportunities in sports and prize money in professional sports. I've always been a huge tennis fan and used to play a lot of tennis so I was familiar with her efforts and her organization, The Women's Sports Foundation. But it wasn't until last year that I really learned the extent of how far the U.S. has come in assuring that girls have equal opportunity in education and sports when I became aware of Title IX.

Today I attended a press conference at City Hall in Philadelphia called V is for Victory. So is IX. First of all, I have lived in Philadelphia all my life and I don’t think I have ever been inside City Hall. The press conference was held in the Mayor’s Reception Room and it was a magnificent room! Everything about it, including the ceiling, was just beautiful. There were paintings of all the previous mayors and a gold-plated chandelier that I just researched and learned is 8’3” and weighs 1680 pounds!(ok you can read more about the room on your own here:" Anyway, back to the press conference. It was to announce a "new national campaign aimed to educate students, parents, and administrators on Title IX, the federal law banning sex-discrimination in schools." The following is from the official press release: The Women's Sports Foundation and the Women's Law Project are working together to help students, parents, coaches, athletic directors, administrators and community leaders advocate for equal treatment in school and community sports programs. This project will focus on evaluating sports programs and in taking the necessary steps to achieve athletic equity.
Wow. I know I, for one, have always taken for granted that girls were to have the same opportunities as boys in sports. I always knew that the boys had more teams than the girls when I was younger, and I don't remember having all the intramural sports and township sports that my kids had in school, but I knew there were plenty of teams that girls could try out for. I always played tennis. I played on my high school team. I played little league. I had opportunities. Maybe it was because I grew up in the suburbs. Or, maybe it was because Title IX was passed in 1972 and I was only eleven years old and didn't even know that I was benefiting from it. Yes, I took it for granted. But as with all freedoms we enjoy, I now know that there was a reason I was able to benefit, that there were girls and women before me who fought for the rights I enjoyed. And still are. There are still schools where girls do not have the same opportunities as boys, or the same equipment, playing fields, practice time or coaching as the boys. And, federal law mandates this must be equal.
Some people may ask why it is so important to have sports in our schools. What is the big deal? It’s just games. But it is SO much more than that. It has been proven that athletics is more than just fun and games. There are lower rates of depression and suicide among girls who are involved in sports.It has been proven that being involved in athletics decreases the likelihood of smoking, drug use, obesity, drop outs and teen pregnancy. Being involved in athletics leads to greater self confidence, self esteem and body image. It helps in learning time management skills and setting goals. Athletics creates more opportunities for girls to attend college through sports scholarships. These are all important tools for academic and professional success and insuring that girls become valuable and productive members of society. Wow! I can only think of what Kenya could be with a Title IX!

Which brings me back to Catherine; these are all reasons why Catherine speaks to children in Kenya and encourages them to stay in school, pursue their education and why she wants all children to have the opportunity to pursue sports. At Q&A sessions at marathons around the world, she speaks to adults and children about the benefits of participating in sports. Because of the example Catherine has set for other young girls growing up in Kenya, there are more girls pursuing sports and even believing that they can earn a living through athletics. The young girls that you have read about in my blog and come here from Kenya to train in Norristown (outside of Philadelphia) cite Catherine as their role model and are thankful that she has paved the way for them to have careers in running.

At the press conference today, I listened to the various speakers talk about how Title IX has affected them or their children. I listened to Susan Slawson, Commissioner of Recreation for the City of Philadelphia talk about the city’s commitment to this campaign and to keeping girls active and healthy. She speaks from experience having been a teen mother and although she doesn’t regret having had a child, wonders if Title IX would have lead her down a different path. I listened to Carol Tracy, the Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project speak about the rights girls are entitled to and how there are still areas where there is non-compliance. It was inspiring to hear Carol Bower’s experience as a U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in rowing and how sports affected her life. Because of Title IX, Christine Shimel was afforded the opportunity to play golf in high school and is the girls 2008 Pennsylvania High School State Golf Champion and has received a scholarship to attend the University of Maryland in the fall. And Lurline Jones, who for 27 years coached the inner city University City High girls basketball team, leading to an impressive 647-202 record and many championships, spoke about the number of her players who have gone on to become doctors and lawyers and have successful careers because their love for the game kept them in school, out of trouble and gave them the tools for success. It sounds like the education system in Kenya can learn a lot from examples such as these.

Pictured from left: Lurine Jones (Coaching Legend, University City High), Terri Lakowski(Women's Sports Foundation), Christine Shimel (Kennett H.S. Senior), Wilma McNabb (President, Professional Football Players Mother's Association, Executive Director, Donovan McNabb Foundation), Carol Tracy (Executive Director, Women's Law Project), Carol Bower (1984 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist, Rowing)

Probably the most recognizable name at the press conference was Wilma McNabb, mother of Philadelphia Eagles Donovan McNabb and a long time youth sports advocate. She understands the value of sports for children and wants to be sure that girls have the same opportunities as boys. Mrs. McNabb is also the Executive Director of the Donovan McNabb foundation which is dedicated to diabetes and she knows firsthand how important activity is in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Participation in athletics lays the groundwork for children to be active and why shouldn’t girls have the same opportunity as boys!

I now realize how lucky I am to have grown up with the benefits of Title IX. I think the goal of this campaign is great; reaching out to students, parents, coaches, athletic directors, administrators and community leaders to advocate for equal treatment in school and community sports programs. I can only imagine how much Kenya could benefit from having more women contributing to society outside of the home, with successful careers whether in sports or not, and earning an income. How wonderful to have girls involved in something that would reduce their risk of teen pregnancy, something that is quite common in Kenya.

Okay, I will step down from the soapbox now! I will say that it was a pleasure to meet everyone at the press conference yesterday, especially Wilma and Sam McNabb. They were both so nice and gracious and being that I’ve been a life-long Philadelphian and Eagles fan whose parents have had season tickets forever and who is the beneficiary of many of those tickets each year, it was really cool to meet them! I assured them I will be wearing my #5 jersey this weekend during the Super Bowl even though we didn’t quite make it!

Sam and Wilma McNabb

My website for the film is under construction and I will post it as soon as it is complete. I am hoping to get back to Kenya in late April following the London Marathon but of course this will all depend on the fundraising. Please feel free to contact me if you know of anyone who would be interested in helping with the funding of this project! :-)

In the meantime, you can find more information on the V is for Victory. So is IX. campaign at these two websites: and

I hope one day WinCatherine: The Story of Wincatherine Nyambura Ndereba will inspire girls around the world, and in this country, make girls appreciate the opportunities that they have and how lucky they are!

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