Last Friday night, I went to a high school football game.
It was maybe the fourth high school football game I’d been to in my life. Not because I lacked spirit for the school I went to, but because the school I went to was too small for football. Four years ago, when my sister moved from eighth grade to ninth grade, she decided she was done with the smallness. She moved to the public school and I moved to college and Friday night football games became my family’s new normal.
At this football game, I sat on the sidelines with my parents. I took pictures of the two players I knew, and the five hundred that I didn’t. I talked with my mom’s friends and I waved to my sister in the stadium and I clapped and booed with the crowd. But mostly I watched the cheerleaders.
My ideal world would be one in which every girl has another girl she can look up to. I don’t mean anyone fictional or famous, though those are important also. I mean a real person in her life. Maybe an older sister, babysitter, maybe a neighbor. Just someone slightly older who the girl can look at and think “I’m going to be just like her.”
I’m lucky enough to have many such girls. The first were two sisters named Katie & Michelle. At a young age, God planted two things in my life: the desire to cheer people on, and these two sisters. Katie & Michelle were babysitters for my siblings and I, and were both cheerleaders at the high school where we lived. I was a cheerleader for a rec football team, and once a year, the rec cheerleaders got to cheer with the high school cheerleaders.
Katie & Michelle endlessly practiced jumps and cheers with me in preparation. It was one of the best nights of my elementary school life-standing under the big lights in the big stadium, looking up at those big girls and being 100% sure that this was the life I was born to have.
(Like I said, my high school was too small for football, but I cheered for basketball with the best of them. We also became North Carolina State Champions).
Some of that confidence I was born with, but I think most of it comes from the fact that I could see myself in every single high school girl there. Tallish, blondeish, thin, white-Andover, KS is not a town known for its diversity. In fact, until I moved to North Carolina in fifth grade, I did not know a single person of a different race.
Now, last Friday night, the same setting in a different place. There were football players, there were cheering crowds, and to my delight, there were elementary school girls standing among the cheerleaders. It’s all the same-but one thing is different. The high school we were at, the high school my sister attends, is about 50% African American, and the attendance at the game reflected that. There were cheerleaders that were thin, blonde, and white, but many of the girls were not. The little girl I was watching was not. She was standing next to a high schooler that was not. I don’t know either of those girls, I don’t know if they know each other. But I saw that little girl look up at that big girl under the big lights in the big stadium and I know that she KNEW that’s where she’d be.
Beyonce said that girls run the world-well hey, let’s prove her right. No matter how old a girl you are, I bet you can find someone younger than you that shares your interests. Find her, get her number, invite her out to lunch, build her up. Encourage her to do the same with someone else she knows. The cycle will go on, and maybe one day, my ideal world will be the one that actually exists.
Happy International Day of the Girl!