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Female athletes challenge stereotypes, celebrate Women In Sports Day

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Junior Kinga Czajkowska sprints down the track toward the finish line as her dad, coaches, and hundreds of fans cheer her on. The buzzing environment pushes Czajkowska to finish the race, as she recalls wanting to leave the California State Track and Field Meet ––the pinnacle of her season –– without any regrets. Her efforts culminated in an impressive time of 4:48 for 1600 meters, the equivalent of a 4:49 mile — an achievement that awarded her ninth place in one of the most elite competitions in the country and first place in the Paly record books.

Just 70 years ago in 1954, Diane Leather Charles was the first woman to run a sub-five mile ever. Czajkowska now stands among an elite group of high school girls to accomplish this feat and said female athletes have made immense progress in recent years.

“We have had a huge jump since the first woman to run a sub-five mile did so in 1954, and now you’re seeing athletes go sub 4:30 at collegiate meets,” Czajkowska said.

Paly Athletic Director Jennifer Crane, who played Division 1 field hockey at UC Berkeley from 2004 to 2008, said facilities and resources have significantly improved for women in sports since her collegiate days.

“We used to have kilts as part of our uniform, so we would wear skirts, but now the skirts have evolved to be tennis skirts and they look more athletic,” Crane said. “They have locker rooms now, but when I was at Cal, we didn’t have a locker room dedicated to just field hockey.”

Michael Davidson, Head Coach for track and field, said he has witnessed the unifying of the girls and boys on teams over the years. 

“When I first came here, the girls had a separate coach, and they were their own small group,” Davidson said. “Having the girls and boys (track and field) teams integrated lets the girls have a greater sense of opportunity to compete against the boys, and have a better measuring stick.”

For Crane, Women in Sports Day, celebrated on Feb. 7 to recognize the accomplishments of female athletes, serves as a testament to how far women have come in the sports arena. 

“(The day) is a reminder that women haven’t always had the same opportunities in athletics as men have,” Crane said. “It’s a reminder to take advantage of the opportunities we have now.”

While Women in Sports Day has recently begun gaining more attention, Czajkowska said the celebration of women in sports should not just be assigned to a singular day, but rather be advocated for through an increase in equal opportunities.

“I didn’t even know that (Women in Sports Day) existed until a year ago,” Czajkowska said. “I don’t think the moment is that important, but making sure there are equal opportunities (for men and women) is a very noble cause.” 

Sophomore Nicole Krawczyk, the youngest person on Team USA to qualify for the World Junior Badminton Championships, said having Women in Sports Day is necessary to help defy stereotypes against female athletes. 

“Girls are usually seen as weaker, so having recognition that women can play sports, do good in their sport, and are just as strong (as men) is important,” Krawczyk said. “Being a girl in sports is rewarding, especially since the sport I do is co-ed and it definitely makes me feel accomplished.”

 Krawczyk said she would advise young girls to be self-assured and not let stereotypes hinder their ambitions.

“Some advice I would give to young girls in their sport would be to stay self-determined and to not let other people’s opinions define them,” Krawczyk said. “Even if they face certain obstacles, they shouldn’t let that stop them because they can do more than they think they can,”

Czajkowska said to end the cycle of negative gender stereotypes, women’s and men’s sports need to be given an equal amount of airtime.

“I know that people will say, ‘Oh, more people are watching (men’s) sports,’ but it’s a self-perpetuating cycle because if ESPN Plus will give more attention to men’s basketball, more funding will go there,” Czajkowska said. “Most of the funding ends up going to predominantly guys sports like football and men’s basketball.”

Crane said an important step in the right direction is being made this year, as the Athletic Department is preparing for the introduction of girl’s Flag Football as a statewide sanctioned sport and anticipating the doors it will open for girls in sport.

“We’ve got the wheels going, and we’re going to be looking for a coach in the next couple of months,” Crane said. “We’re excited to see how many new female athletes it brings out to play another sport.”

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Amaya Bharadwaj, Staff Writer
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