I spent most of the weekend watching my nieces play in a youth soccer tournament.
Seeing hundreds of spectators cheering for 12-year-old girls, it struck me how far the ladies have come in sports since I was their age, wearing youth-sized boys cleats.
I remember borrowing little league boys hand-me-down uniforms for all-star softball games because the girls regular-season attire consisted of blue jeans and plain pink t-shirts. My mother recounts her experiences in youth sports, playing half-court basketball: the belief in the 1950s was that girls couldn't run the full length of the floor.
Today, girls not only run basketball courts and softball bases, but soccer fields, marathons and more, all in their very own customized attire.
This generation of little girls is oblivious to the battles fought for the chance to play. It's simply a natural part of their culture and education. That's how far we've come; it's just as it should be.
The legislation known as Title IX, enacted in 1972, was the milestone step in women's athletics. Its goal was to provide an even playing field for all of those involved in school activities. But that was just the beginning. There are countless local heroes in the evolution of women's sports.
Credit, of course, goes to the many women who worked tirelessly for girls to have facilities, scholarships and opportunities to play - coaches and administrators like Penn State's Della Durant and Ellen Perry who didn't just open doors but kicked them down.
Credit also goes to a legion of men like Joe Paterno, who during his tenure as athletic director did much more than build his own football program. He made it his mission to give women and minority student-athletes the chance to compete far ahead of the national mandates, not only by providing them with resources but also by hiring coaches and support staff he knew would be champions for women's rights.
There were lots of male football and baseball fans who wouldn't have dreamed of attending a girls game when they were in school, but after having girls of their own, studied soccer and softball rule books so that their daughters could be part of a new team in town.
There were mothers and grandmothers who shuttled their young ladies all around to play sports that were never available to them, wanting their daughters to reap the same rewards of athletics as their sons.
And maybe the most encouraging display of how far we've come is the way boys today root for and respect their female counterparts. When high school girls suit up for a big basketball game, it's often their face-painted male classmates providing the loudest cheers. It's just cool for girls to play sports.
Our communities are better for it. Leaders are born on the athletic field, and now they're often in ponytails.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.