There are eight of them. Four boys and four girls.
They attend a small school where the community is tight. They feel the absence when someone leaves, and they quickly know the new kid. They are multi-sport athletes, accomplished students, student leaders, community thespians, and likeable teenagers. And, every fall for the last five years, they have laced up their shoes to run cross country. It has taken five years of lacing and training and racing to make them into the bonded group that they are. They currently call themselves “The Squad.”
They inspired me to write, not just because I think they are great kids or because I’m a “Squad Mom,” but because they represent the good that can come from coeducational athletics.
I’m a sports parent whose boys were separated from the girls by early elementary school. I’m also an educator who taught in single-sex classrooms. I see a value in offering equal opportunities for girls and boys to learn and grow independently. I know, for example, that girls may gain more self-confidence when grouped with their own gender. The same can be said about boys, especially when they might not always fit into what our society deems as “boyish.”
An Unexpected Gift
I think it has been such a gift for my own sons to be able to compete alongside female athletes. They each have been inspired and awed by girls on their travel baseball teams—not because they are girls, but because they are phenomenal players. I remember the end-of-the season pool party after the 9U season. When #33 arrived in her two-piece swimsuit all the boys looked at each other like, “What?! We’ve got a girl on our team?!” It’s funny, but my boys don’t see “You play like a girl” as a slur. I credit that to their female teammates, their positive male role models, and some pretty athletic mamas in their lives.
But, apart from these two baseball-playing girls, my guys have had little opportunity to grow as young athletes with their female contemporaries. Except, when it comes to cross country. I imagine swimming might offer a similar opportunity, and the same with track, but middle school cross country has everyone running the same course. Everyone trains together. Everyone runs the same distance. Everyone tries to reach a Personal Best for the good of the team. Yes, usually the girls score points for the girls and the boys score points for the boys, but each group sees the other as part of the better half. It was particularly fun, though, to watch the boys/girls recently get paired into a relay format where they really were in one race together.
Back to The Squad
During this stage of adolescent life which often creates uncomfortable boy-girl dynamics, awkward feelings about physical development (or lack thereof), and opportunities for dumbing-down or showing-off, this group seems remarkably comfortable with who they are when they are together. No, they are not perfect. They are teenagers. Each one has his or her own unique struggles. Still, they quarrel and razz each other like siblings. They encourage one another to be better students and better citizens. They look out for one another. They mentor the younger runners. The hours they pound into the dirt and pavement have proven to them, and to others, that gender does not limit the strength and ability of an individual. Together, they can be competitors, athletes, and teammates. And, above all, boys and girls can have healthy friendships. They might not win any championships, though they have in the past. They might not continue to run in high school. But, for now, they are like iron sharpening iron- one person sharpening another. And, even if you don’t know these kids, I hope you will share my excitement for them, their season, and for wherever they are headed next.