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In the McCulley household, mornings around the breakfast table are always a race to see who can snatch the sports page first. As the daughter of two avid tennis players and former college athletes, I knew it was inevitable that athletics would form a central part of my youth. From making my first club soccer squad in the fourth grade, to captaining the lacrosse team at my alma mater, life has always been defined by athletics. In fact, I find it difficult to even conceive of a world where organized sports were not an option.
So it was eye-opening to listen to the personal stories of Robin Roberts and Billie Jean King, to whom we all owe a debt for their advocacy on behalf of women in athletics and sports media. Too often, my generation forgets this history of activism and struggle, accustomed as we are to a world where joining the high school team seems as natural as learning to walk.
On Tuesday, Nancy Hogshead-Makar of the Women's Sports Foundation shared data showing that sports participation by high school girls has increased by 979.4 percent from 1972 to 2011. That's a great achievement to celebrate, but also demonstrates the need for future generations to understand where we've been. With the 40th anniversary of Title IX approaching on June 23, 2012, there's no better time to harness the ideas and energy here in Tucson to learn from history and to effect change.
During a panel on the topic of "Making Women's Sports Relevant," discussion focused on how women are more likely to consume stories than stats, journeys than sports jargon. espnW is a powerful platform for focusing attention on the personal journeys of remarkable women who are too often overlooked by mainstream media. Within these stories are the seeds of inspiration for future generations of athletes and advocates. Former Syracuse quarterback and self-proclaimed feminist Don McPherson exhorted our group to "tell your story, so that young girls can see themselves in that story."
So as I prepare to depart Tucson, I will take in my mental suitcase not only memories but also a plan of action. Billie Jean King instilled in us the message that we are all influencers, and that our stories have meaning in the wider world. My experience at the espnW Summit was the opening of a new chapter in a narrative that I hope will have an impact on present and future generations of female athletes.
Kayla McCulley, who played varsity lacrosse at Pomona College, is pursuing her MBA and Masters in Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She attended the espnW Summit as the Women and Sports essay contest winner.