HomeCommunityGenerations of female athletes pave way for CHS girls’ sports equality

Generations of female athletes pave way for CHS girls’ sports equality

Published March 5, 2024

BY ZANA BALABAN

Carmel High School has experienced a transformational journey in girls’ sports over the past seven decades. Today, the school offers 13 competitive girls’ sports, boasting numerous league titles—a stark contrast to the complete absence of such opportunities 70 years ago. The impact of this evolution has been profound, and it is evident to alumni that the current outlets for competition and teamwork have immense benefits. 

“Something new in the girls’ program was track,” reads the 1958 CHS yearbook. “Everybody enjoyed seeing the weaker sex compete in the intramural track meet.”

Billie Jean King (left) and Suzi Crary after a doubles match in 1989. Both women, although on different scales, spearheaded the drive for equal access in women’s sports. (courtesy of SUZI CRARY)

Since CHS’ founding in 1940, yearbooks have contained over a dozen pages filled with boys’ athletics. The 1958 “Girls’ Sports Clubs” page, however, consisted of a series of staged photographs of athletics, which they might have played in P.E. but weren’t available competitively.

“They created phony sports seasons,” says Suzi Crary, a 1960 graduate of CHS. “[The boys] had real things, and we had those fake pictures in a yearbook.”

Crary now has five gold and seven silver national women’s tennis medals. Although sports for girls were unheard of during her childhood, her father, an NFL veteran, encouraged her to take summer lessons at the beach club.

“Even my mother would say to me, ‘Suzi, nice girls don’t play sports,’” recalls Crary, who says being labeled a tomboy didn’t bother her much. “I was a jock, as much as you could be, as much as my mother would allow me to be. I was better than my older brother at every sport.”

Lisa Bryan, who graduated in 1959, fell in love with horseback riding at age 6. Bryan says she was lucky to have her horse, Cheyenne, throughout her teenage years.

“A lot of girls who were 16, 17 or 18 years old were already getting pregnant or were off smoking,” the published painter remembers. “I was on my horse. I wasn’t doing any of that stuff.”

Lisa Bryan and Ashley, aged 2, in Carmel Valley where Bryan raised her child around horses. (courtesy of LISA BRYAN)

This outlet for competition and activity led her to participate in shows as far away as Hong Kong, where she became a member of the royal Jockey Club. Bryan remembers there were no athletic opportunities available for girls in school. This issue was universal, and most didn’t know protesting was an option.

“I regret that I didn’t speak up about it,” says Crary, who placed first in singles and doubles at the 2024 USA Pickleball National Championships. “I don’t know whether it would have accomplished anything, but there were enough of us who wanted to play sports.”

“Who knows, I could have been Billie Jean King,” adds Crary, who played against the Grand Slam legend in 1988 and 1989.

Until her graduation in 1958, Lacy Buck played left wing in field hockey, one of the only girls’ teams that met for practices. “Games” consisted of informal scrimmages against their own teammates.

Buck, also a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen of 1957, remembers the shade boys placed over female jocks. On the other hand, girls were generally more supportive.

“[Girls] did nothing but admire the girls who were athletic, sleek and out there on the field doing their best,” says Buck.

Natalie Kaiser, infamous for her accumulation of yellow cards, played center defensive midfield on the inaugural girls’ soccer team at CHS. (courtesy of NATALIE KAISER)

Years later, Marion Plastini experienced similar attitudes.

“The girls who played field hockey were considered manly,” says Plastini, Class of 1975. “It seemed normal, but now girls can be anything…athletic and feminine.”

A similar theme of absent athletic opportunities was visible in Plastini’s high school career.

“I remember playing soccer freshman year in P.E.,” says Plastini. “It was so much fun because there was so much running. I enjoyed that, but they didn’t have a girls’ soccer team.”

It was another 25 years before a girls’ soccer team was established in 1995.

“I thought it was normal because when I was younger, that’s just the household we lived in,” says Marisol Valdez, Class of ‘99 and a freshman on the inaugural girls’ team.  “The women would clean the house, cook and wait for the men to come home.”

Throughout her childhood, Valdez says she always tried to act tough. In high school, the boys’ soccer team called her “Scare-us-all” (rhymes with Marisol). Although Valdez felt too young to speak up about the lack of athletic opportunities, she remembers the confidence of girls who did, such as Natalie Kaiser, one year her senior.

“It’s crazy to think I helped get that program going,” says Kaiser, who had no choice but to play for the boys’ soccer team during her freshman year. In her senior year, the girls’ team earned the league co-champion title.

“It was rainy, it was cold, it was a mess,” Valdez says. “It was suffering, but we loved it.”

Title IX, an educational amendment mandating equal access to all school activities, was revolutionary upon its passing in 1972. However, women alumni say it wasn’t until the late ‘90s that they saw the impact.

After playing on boys’ teams for many years, Kaiser felt a different sense of belonging on a girls’ team.

“My experience was typical that when you play with boys they don’t want to get beat by a girl,” Kaiser says. “I had to work that much harder to prove myself.”

Marisol Valdez, who was a shin-kicking threat on the first girls’ soccer team, is posed with her best friend Fallon who encouraged her to join the coed track team. (courtesy of MARISOL VALDEZ)

Upon graduation, Kaiser was one of two girls who earned the Iron Woman Award, which she qualified for by playing a sport every season of her high school career. The Class of 2023 had eight Iron Women and two Iron Men. 

The experiences of all these girls, spanning from the ‘50s to the late ‘90s, were significant in paving the way for future female athletes. Crary’s youngest daughter, Heather, played every sport in high school and earned a full scholarship to Stanford for water polo.

“It was one generation away that she could achieve all that, and we had nothing,” says Crary.

Bryan made sacrifices to keep horses in her and her child’s life. Buck has noticed wonderful evolutions in attitude towards girls in sports through the lives of her family. Kaiser’s daughter’s soccer team has reached levels of competition Kaiser couldn’t have imagined.

“Now that I reminisce through this time,” says Kaiser, “we were pioneers paving the way to today.”

Valdez’s daughter, age 6, has been raised to speak up as Valdez never could.

“We were still learning to speak as women, as girls,” Valdez says. “I always tell my daughter, ‘Don’t be quiet.’ In sports, I never want her to be afraid.”

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