This weekend I attended a regional sports banquet honoring my daughter, among other athletes. Standard affair - about 80 girls with their hetero normative families - Italian buffet, long winded emcee, some alumni telling the girls to give back to their sport, yada, yada, yada. I have been to dozens of these.
The program also listed a speech by the guest of honor. I’m already yawning. But when the time comes, they introduce the honoree as a woman who has been a ref for over 20 years. Who this year, due to illness, is retiring from the sport. And up comes this very beautiful, very butch woman, who begins her speech (and I’m paraphrasing here as much as I can remember)
When I was in high school there were no other girls who looked like me. There were no other girls who dressed like me. There were no other girls who talked like me. I was an outcast. Classmates laughed at me. I had no social life. I had no friends. I was different. I knew it and they knew it. Until I stepped onto a playing field or an athletic court. And then I was part of a team.
(And I’m looking around at all these very straight mom and dads, in this very conservative part of the state, and every person is listening with full attention)
It was my teammates who accepted me for who I was. An Athlete. And for all those horrible years in high school, being an athlete was what got me through.
After college I became a ref. And I loved reffing your games. Not the freezing cold games in drenching rains that always went into overtime. Not the coaches questioning my calls. Not the parents screaming at me. No, what I loved was watching you girls play your sport as a team. Full tilt, all out, leave it all on the field. Athletes. Before the game I could see there were girly girls and there were girls like me and all the differences in between. But when the whistle blew, and you came onto the field, you all wore the same uniform and you played as a team. If one player was injured, the entire team was diminished. When you lost, you lost as a team. And when you won, you won as a team.
And I know all the things that happen off the field. The team meetings, the team dinners, the team sleep overs. Team bonding. No one is excluded. Every member, no matter what their differences, is part of the whole. And the team would be weaker without them.
Today I want to urge you girls, to continue with the lessons of hard work and dedication that you have learned from playing a sport at this level. But mostly I want you to remember that when you go out into the world, there will be many, many people who are different than you. Remember we all bring different abilities and skills to the field. Everyone has their specialty. But it is only by working together, and encouraging each others talents, that we can succeed. Never, ever let your teammates down.
As she walked off stage, every single athlete and parent in that room stood and gave her a rousing ovation.
And I was totally floored.