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From 1987 to 2017: A Look Back at the History of NGWSD

First Lady Barbara Bush [center] pictured with Former WSF President Lyn St. James [far left] and the 1991 Women's Rugby World Cup Championship team celebrating NGWSD in Washington, D.C.
First Lady Barbara Bush [center] pictured with Former WSF President Lyn St. James [far left] and the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup Championship team celebrating NGWSD in Washington, D.C.
In 1987, the United States celebrated the first official National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) in Washington, D.C. The day was established to honor and recognize women’s sports and the promise sports hold for girls and women everywhere. It is through sports that girls gain lifelong benefits such as, leadership, confidence and perseverance, which serve them both on the field and off. We also know sports help girls improve their self-esteem, stay in school, excel academically, and avoid unintended pregnancies and risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse.

The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) recognized the need to draw attention to the benefits of sports and call for more opportunities for girls. It is because of the health, education and leadership benefits of sports that the WSF lead a coalition of organizations to celebrate NGWSD in 1987.

The first NGWSD celebration was also a moment to recognize and remember Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman who passed away from Marfan’s Syndrome just the year before. She was a talented volleyball player and a strong advocate for women’s equality in sports. Since that first celebration, NGWSD has evolved to recognize all female athletes for their incredible accomplishments, as well as to recognize the positive influence of sports and the continued fight for equality for women in sports.

A decade and a half before the start of NGWSD, the United States government signed Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 into law. Since the passage of Title IX, female participation in sports has grown exponentially. Prior to Title IX’s passage, just one in 27 girls played high school sports, today that figure is two in five. While there are still changes needed before every girl has equal access to sports, especially girls of color, it is clear that we are making progress.

This past summer at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the world watched as woman after woman broke barriers, shattered records and won titles across a multitude of sports. Simone Biles tumbled her way to greatness; Laurie Hernandez became only the second U.S.-born Hispanic athlete to make the U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic team; Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming; Ashleigh Johnson became the first African-American woman to ever make the U.S. Water Polo Olympic Team; Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Team USA athlete to compete in a hijab; Claressa Shields became the first American boxer, male or female, to win back-to-back gold medals; Helen Maroulis brought home the United States’ first ever gold medal in women’s wrestling and the list goes on. In short, Olympic coverage was covered with outstanding American women making history, thanks in part, to Title IX.

While NGWSD will be celebrated on Capitol Hill on February 1 this year, celebrating women in sports is a yearlong event. Communities across the country host events throughout the year to encourage young girls to get out and get active. Female athletes make incredible role models and NGWSD allows us to come together to salute these women for their phenomenal efforts on and off the field. Join us in celebrating this historic day!

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