I was setting out to start a column on the playoff chances, or lack thereof, the Chicago Bears have heading into the NFL postseason, when a text from my friend Tyler changed my mind on what really matters in the sports world this week.
He shared a message he received from his mother, Suzanne. Suzanne was stoked the Boston Red Sox had hired Bianca Smith as a minor league coach Tuesday, making her the first Black woman to coach professional baseball. This news came one week after Becky Hammon became the first woman to serve as an NBA head coach when the San Antonio Spurs assistant replaced coach Greg Popovich after his ejection in the Spurs’ game against the Lakers.
Suzanne texted Tyler about the accomplishments and mentioned she was voted in her senior class in 1979 at Minooka as the most likely the become the first woman to coach in the NBA.
“Totally a joke at the time, but I think it’s so cool that it’s happening now,” she texted her son. “And I wish I could have done it.”
She’s right — it’s awesome to see women starting to find their place in roles that were 100 percent taken by men not long ago. Several women now coach and officiate in the NFL. The Miami Marlins made Kim Ng the first female general manager in MLB history earlier this offseason. Women are finding their way in all areas of all sports.
What didn’t seem possible to Suzanne during her high school days now is tangibly evident, although still rare, for the Suzannes of today — the same young women who we have covered and will continue to cover whenever prep sports resume.
I learned quickly when I started reporting at the Daily Journal the coverage former sports editor Brock Netter and I were giving, and now Cody Smith helps bring, is much more than girls sports typically have been covered, particularly since newsrooms across the globe began shrinking earlier this century.
As someone who grew up here and has lived in the area for all but my college years, I was kind of surprised by that. I know how good girls sports traditionally are here. I’ve mentioned it before, but pound-for-pound, there’s not another area in the state that matches ours on the softball diamond. We’ve had teams in a variety of other sports reach the state level, from Herscher girls soccer to Wilmington becoming somewhat of a cheerleading dynasty.
We’re a small, community newspaper. Without Chicago Bears training camp, we have no professional teams to cover. We have two colleges with successful athletic programs we are aiming to expand our coverage on, but aside from that and some youth sports, high school sports are the main focus of our coverage — not just boys prep sports but prep sports as a whole.
When we’re out covering the girls in their athletic endeavors, we’re helping plant those seeds that have blossomed into names such as Brown, Hammon and Ng — the names being etched into history before our eyes. Sure, our role isn’t the most significant at all. But we’re helping these young women see they have a place in athletics just as much as their male counterparts.