Chix with Sticks

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Sherry Handel launched blue jean magazine in 1995 as an alternative to the beauty-and- boys themed magazines that target young girls. At the time, blue jean was the only magazine written and produced by young women from around the world. In the spirit of back-to-school, Women’s Enews features an excerpt from the first collection of blue jean stories. Think “Bad News Bears” — with a cast of teen-age girls.

The Palmer High School women’s lacrosse team in Colorado Springs, Colo., has never been a flashy operation. We do not pile into shiny new school buses for each game, draped in custom-made plaid kilts and matching team jackets. It is a sport that is often associated with private school girls, many of whom come from wealthy families.

Well, we are anything but wealthy, and we go to a public school. With 2,000 students, Palmer High is a packed-to-capacity school that has none of the usual influence or etiquette of Eastern private schools’ lacrosse teams. What we do have is the heart that it takes to create a team.

Our team was born two years ago by three Palmer girls. One of the founding members, senior high student Piper Foster, still recalls the original idea to start the women’s lacrosse team.

“I felt like so much information was coming out about how girls were more successful with an athletic outlet, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity,” she said. “I noticed so many girls at Palmer who might be hesitant to play sports normally, but because we all started from the same place, they got involved. Interest was all we really needed.”

Foster knew Colorado College graduate Amy Wagner, who had played intercollegiate lacrosse. The girls asked Amy if she would be willing to coach. Amy accepted, and she became the key to their success in getting the team started. “If it wasn’t for Amy Wagner, it would have been a great idea, but it never would have happened,” said Kierstin Melson, a Palmer senior and varsity starter.

Working for peanuts and spending at least two hours every day coaching 30 brand-new lacrosse players was not the easiest job to take on, but Amy was not afraid.

“I love young people. I love lacrosse,” she said. “I just figured, what a perfect way for me to practice all my passions, and more than anything else, I just love high school students.”

This was just the beginning, though, and many obstacles followed. It was imperative for our team to find a way to support itself financially; goalie equipment, uniforms, and referee fees were costly. But most important, we needed somewhere to play the game. We moved around quite a bit during the first year. We started at a local park, playing on whatever patch of green we could find that was unoccupied by joggers and little kids.

A month into our inaugural season, we found an elementary schoolyard filled with potholes and more dirt than lawn. Finally, we lucked out and found a place of our own. We chartered a field that was actually green and regulation-size, and we lined the outer-most boundaries with bag after bag of flour.

So the adventure began. Learning to play lacrosse was the fun part. Only three of the 30 girls had ever picked up a stick before, so it was frustrating at times. With the perfect combination of perseverance and female bonding, we ended up feeling like a team.

Did we look like a real team? That was a different story altogether. Our wardrobe consisted of T-shirts that featured a male lacrosse player on the front (it was the only version they had), along with the sponsoring company’s logo, which brought the price down. To top it off, we each wore the cheapest black shorts we could find. We didn’t care, but it grated on our nerves to hear our snooty Denver school opponents ask, “Where are your kilts?”

We ended up sewing our own kilts at the start of the second season on an abandoned Ping-Pong table in one team player’s basement. We sized and cut 30 skirts, and then brought them home to show our friends and families. All the while, we bonded with our mothers and grandmothers over the ancient art of sewing, which we knew nothing about. We finished fourth in our division that year and never lost sight of the important struggle we had to overcome.

Because of our efforts, lacrosse has become more than just another seasonal sport for the girls at Palmer High. Our experience was valuable and empowering. It taught us that individuals have the power to actively start anything from scratch. We 30 girls showed our bravery, despite the fact that some of us had never played a sport before. We abandoned the typical teen-age reluctance to embarrass oneself, and dared to try something new. Our experience stands for the irreplaceable self-confidence that participating in athletics can give young women.

“I’ve seen so many players on our team just completely open up,” said Amy.

“It has been such an awesome opportunity [to gain] leadership qualities. A bunch of girls just got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s get active in sports'” Kierstin said. “We started something from nothing.”

Copyright 2001, Blue Jean: What Young Women Are Thinking, Saying, and Doing (Blue Jean Press)

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