No one who knew me then would have predicted the turn my life would take in the spring of 1972 when I became a plaintiff in a lawsuit.
Forty years ago, I was a high school senior at St. Cloud Tech. My ambitions at the start of that school year were relatively modest: do well in my classes, graduate and be accepted into a college I could afford to attend-ambitions I shared with virtually all my high school friends. In addition, I wanted to play competitive tennis, but there were not girls' athletic teams at Tech.
Brenden v ISD 742, 477 F. 2d 1292, (Court of Appeals 8th Circuit, 1973), was one of the first lawsuits in the nation to challenge rules that forbid girls from playing on boys' athletic teams. It is often referred to as the lawsuit that helped "jump-start" the implementation of Title IX.
The lawsuit transported my passion for tennis from "on the court" to "in court." And, it taught me many important life lessons-two of which I share here:
1. Don't be afraid to question authority. My experience with the lawsuit taught me that it is important to take time to examine rules and traditions to make certain they continue to make sense.
The people in power in 1972 said a girl on a boys' tennis team was ill advised. Authorities predicted I would get hurt. They argued the boys I played with and against would suffer psychological damage. They suggested my playing with the boys would hurt the growth of opportunities for other girls to participate in sports. While there is no doubt these perceptions enjoyed widespread popularity in 1972, they were wrong.
I learned in a very personal way to be wary of what is popular, because popular and principled-especially in matters of civil rights-do not always go hand in hand.
2. Do what you can do. Helen Keller said: "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."
I have often lamented the fact that my contributions to the world seem so insignificant. There are no cancer cures or technological breakthroughs on my resume. But, I have come to understand that life presents each one of us with unique opportunities, not all necessarily newsworthy, but nonetheless extremely worthwhile. Being in a position to help grow opportunities for girls in athletics was a totally unexpected gift in my life. And, it has made me excited and vigilant about finding other "somethings I can do" as I move forward.
Peg Brenden is a compensation judge with the Minnesota State Office of Administrative Hearings. She lives in St. Paul.
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