[Pictured above: Jackie Joyner Kersee appears on the right in purple holding the Flo Hyman Award in the Oval Office to celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day on February 4, 1988.]
National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) began in 1987 as a special day in our nation’s capital to recognize women’s sports. The day united premiere organizations and elite female athletes to bring national attention to the promise of girls and women in sports. NGWSD has since evolved into an event acknowledging the accomplishments of female athletes, the positive influence of sports participation and the continuing struggle for equality for women in sports.
This year marked the 30th annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day, so we decided to speak with one of sports all-time greats, Jackie Joyner Kersee, about her NGWSD memories. Jackie is a six-time Olympic medalist, four-time World Championships gold medalist, a U.S.A. Hall of Fame member, former WSF Board of Trustees member and a 1996 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award winner. At just 25, Jackie attended the very first NGWSD and has been present at many since. She shares her memories and the moments that she still holds dear after thirty years.
What was it like to be at the very first National Girls & Women in Sports Day in Washington, D.C. in 1987?
It was very exciting, especially from the standpoint of not realizing the impact the women had before on me and so many others. To bring women from all different sports backgrounds together in the Oval Office with Ronald Reagan was huge. Now, to talk about 30 years…wow…to have a foundation like the Women’s Sports Foundation spearheading National Girls & Women in Sports Day and a leader like Billie Jean King to bring all of us together. Girls’ sports are in the fabric of the world. We are here and are here to stay. We have been here.
What is your most meaningful memory from a National Girls & Women in Sports Day that you have attended in D.C.?
One meaningful part of NGWSD for me, is the celebration of Title IX and always keeping that law in the forefront and making sure the law doesn’t change. Another meaningful aspect for me is all the different athletes and the sports representatives. To me, whenever you can be invited to the White House and sit with the President is an honor in itself. Those are memories you will keep forever. I was young and you don’t realize that impact but looking back now you see. I have to give credit to the WSF because they have forever and will forever support girls and women sports.
What was it like to receive the Flo Hyman Award?
That was a memorable moment because when I was in high school we would go see Flo and the U.S. National team play Japan in Illinois and to see her and so many others, it was just unbelievable. I had never seen a woman so tall and athletic and gifted and just a beautiful person. Then to receive the Flo Hyman award and subsequently the Wilma Rudolph Courage award from WSF, it reminds me to not forget where I come from, that the reason I still shine is because of the women before me. These are the women who made great strides for us. Under the umbrella of a legend like Billie Jean King, to have WSF pull us together each year, with a new group of athletes each year, just shows how more generations are being impacted by women like Flo or Wilma. The WSF made that all possible.
This year we celebrated the 30th annual NGWSD. What is the significance of this day to you?
The significance is the celebration of it. Women athletes are being acknowledged and as we continue to more forward there’s certainly still a lot more work to do but it’s just great that we can celebrate how far we have come. This day is an opportunity to continue to allow the role models of yesterday to be a part of the role models of the next generation. It’s just so great that we continue to support one another and we have to continue to voice it.
What are some strides you’ve seen made for women and girls in sports that you find particularly powerful?
Sometimes we don’t celebrate what we have achieved. People are connecting all over the nation and people everywhere are celebrating women and girls in sports for NGWSD. That’s significant to me. Now, people are talking about it and who knows in the next 30 years every school, every organization will be doing something around NGWSD. You can’t get any higher than being at the White House.
What’s a difference you have seen from being at the first NGWSD to now 30 years later?
Then it was just a small gathering and for me I didn’t really understand the magnitude, but as I continue to be involved with the WSF I see how much they’re doing to continue to educate people about how girls and women in sports are important to our society and how athletes are more than just athletes, they are great humanitarians and people. The force to me is that connector. I think this celebration is just great and I hope it continues to grow even further.