I’ve spent a long time in record books this winter.
The Bemidji State women’s basketball team had me combing through the program archives just about every week this season, and one theme was constant all year.
How appropriate that the end of their near-unprecedented season led directly into Women’s History Month, providing another opportunity to reflect on female frontrunners in sports and envision where the current figures are taking the conversation.
Names like Billie Jean King and Becky Hammon immediately surface, and their against-the-grain accomplishments are mighty admirable. On a local level, trailblazers like BSU’s Ruth Howe and Bemidji High School’s Nancy Schnickels were some of the first women in town to assume head coaching positions.
But if this year’s taught me anything, it’s to also appreciate the history unfolding right in front of you.
Athletes like Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, like Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu, like Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd are as captivating as they are talented. Again looking locally, anyone who’s followed the Beavers and Lumberjacks will remember names like Haley Mack, Rachael Heittola and Lauren Berg for a lot longer than their tenures in uniform.
While I’m as big of an NFL fanatic as anyone, and painfully loyal to the Seattle Mariners on the baseball diamond, I’d be doing myself a disservice as a sports fan to ignore the WNBA or NWSL.
Women’s sports are clearly on the rise, and I don’t want to miss it.
Some may debate whether Napheesa Collier is better than Arike Ogunbowale, or if Maya Moore should return to the Lynx, and there’s a legitimate conversation to be had. But if you want to dismiss women’s sports as boring, or like social media comments joking that women belong in the kitchen, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.
Truth be told, I often find myself more excited to cover the female teams than their male counterparts. There’s a unique opportunity to amplify voices, to document progress and, well, to witness history.
And that brings me back to Bemidji State.
BSU head coach Chelsea DeVille made a subtle change a year or two ago. When talking with the media, she tended to refer to her players as her “kids.” Now, she refers to her players as “women.”
There was no malice intended with the former, of course. In fact, it solidified the family-like atmosphere she was trying to build. But the alteration in verbage toward 18- and 22-year-olds further legitimize their belonging in an otherwise male-dominated world.
As DeVille has often voiced: Women empowering women is the most influential part of the equation.
To be honest, I’ve struggled with that statement a bit. I’m a fixer, and I want the blueprints on how to solve the problem in five easy steps. As a man, how do I contribute to the solution when sometimes the solution doesn’t require me?
I’ve learned -- and am still learning -- to amplify when I can, to contribute how I should, and sometimes to just sit back and watch.
After all, they’re doing just fine on their own.