When we couldn’t find our story, we wrote it ourselves.
“The memory of a strong woman is a sanctuary . . . .” And so begins our story.
The strong women we knew as kids were teachers, relatives and teammates who encouraged us to play any sport available to us—thanks in part to a newly enacted law called Title IX. It was the mid-1970s and Val was growing up in Ohio, Jo in Colorado. Our schools had begun to offer young women like us a chance to play the games we’d before only watched our brothers play. We were grateful for each coach—women and men—who supported and taught us in spite of the challenges—and there were many. Still, from soccer and softball to volleyball and basketball, we loved every scrappy opportunity we were given to compete.
But we also loved books. When we searched the library for any sport story for girls, we couldn’t find many. We both went on to compete as college athletes before also becoming college coaches. Val was born to coach and to train coaches. Jo quickly learned she was better at teaching and writing, so pursued both.
When our careers crossed at a small liberal arts college in New England—where Val is still chair of the kinesiology department and Jo was journalist in residence at the time—we soon began talking about the power of sports to shape our lives. But we also lamented the lack of good fiction with female athletes at the center.
Where were the novels about women’s sports? How come only young adult literature featured female athletes, if at all? Why didn’t someone write the kind of fiction we’d always wanted to read? And how could we help today’s young athletes know what we went through?
From those conversations, we began to plot. We gathered Title IX anecdotes from friends and colleagues, as well as our own, scheduled meetings, and created a story line that was officially published as a novel September 30, 2015, as WHEN GIRLS BECAME LIONS.
The story moves between 1983 and 2008 as two coaches’ stories progress, exploring the impact Title IX legislation had on one fictitional mid-western town. That pioneering team in 1983 also wins the state championship, but like so many (real) women’s sports of that era, they never received their due. It’s not until 25 years later when a young coach discovers their legacy that their achievement begins to be recognized.
From here looking back, we know, as authors, that the story of WHEN GIRLS BECAME LIONS is a familiar and authentic one. So, too, is its celebration of women’s friendships against the backdrop of sport history, but it doesn’t fit easily into either women’s fiction or the male-dominated sports genre. In fact, the New York publishers who “loved the idea and the manuscript” couldn’t decide how to market it. Was it women’s fiction? A sports novel? Contemporary, or historical? Though their feedback was helpful, we did what many Title IX recipients have learned to do: we took matters into our own hands and published the novel ourselves.
Four years, one small grant and dozens of conversations later, we finally produced the type of novel we wanted to read: a tale of two teams, Title IX and the women who became champions—and friends—through it all. When Julie Foudy, Olympian and ESPN Commentator, told us she “absolutely loved this great read about women in sports, (that) contemporary fiction with women athletes at the center of the narrative is long overdue,” we knew things were looking up.
Title IX paved the way for us as athletes. Now we’re hoping the literary playing field becomes increasingly leveled as well for readers and athletes like us, so when they go hunting for a book that tells their story, they’ll find more than one.
Bios: Dr. Valerie J. Gin is a professor and chair of the kinesiology department at Gordon College on Boston’s North Shore. She lectures internationally as a sport ethicist and coaching consultant. Jo Kadlecek has written and published over a dozen books and hundreds of articles. She recently relocated from Boston to Australia. (For more information on the authors, visit http://www.WhenGirlsBecameLions.com/about-the-authors/)