As we enjoy the competition and exhilaration of the Winter Olympics, cheering on the talented men and women of our US Olympic team, it’s hard to imagine that things haven’t always been so equal for male and female athletes. For example, after the 1964 Olympics, swimmer Donna de Varona, who had won gold medals, could not obtain a college swimming scholarship, because for women, they did not exist. And in elementary schools through high schools across this country, the situation was not much different. While boys were encouraged to play sports like baseball and basketball on organized teams, girls were not afforded the same opportunity. In 1964, when Susan Buckles started playing softball at the age of nine, her team had trouble finding coaches and umpires, and struggled to find locations to practice or hold games. At a time when most women were at home with their kids, two moms — Mrs. Donna Kielbowick and Mrs. Mary Lou Horner — decided to spend some time with their kids outside their home. These “trailblazers”, by Buckles’s description – decided that their girls deserved the same opportunities to participate in sports as their boys did. This was eight years prior to the passage of Title Nine in 1972, the landmark civil rights law that barred gender discrimination in education and in organized sports.
Susan was gifted with her father’s natural athleticism, and her parents decided that she deserved the same chance to use it, just as her brother had before her. As an athletic kid, she was told she had raw talent. “Playing in the league,” shared Buckles, “helped me built my confidence. It was also a great lesson in teamwork, since a team is only as good as its weakest link.”
Buckles played throughout her time at Crestwood High School, where she was in 1972 when Title Nine eventually passed. She feels fortunate to have played when, “the sport was not as “dog-eat-dog” as today, when girls played for the fun of it, and felt the joy of just getting to participate.” And although her father had a demanding job managing a large dairy cattle farm, he still found time to coach boys’ Hot Stove Little League teams and girls Ponytail League teams. He left a legacy of fair play and sportsmanship as a well-respected umpire, as well.
His examples of hard work and dedication weren’t lost on Buckles, who went on to play at college, and came back after graduation to coach in the Crestwood Ponytail League. It took the foresight of parents, like her father, who were able to take a risk for their girls — to build the framework, and break the barriers to provide the opportunities and life-lessons that today’s girls now enjoy. Buckles and her father, Don Stanley, are two of the charter members of the Crestwood Ponytail League, which celebrates its 50th year in 2014.
Matt Rini, Crestwood Ponytail League Secretary, shares their vision. “Coaching in a rec league is a great opportunity to teach fundamentals, teamwork and sportsmanship. In addition, I found there to be great reward in inspiring young ladies to develop confidence and self-esteem by participating in an organized sport.” Rini continues, “And there’s nothing like seeing the pure joy in a player who, even if it’s just one time in an entire season, makes THAT play. Being involved in this league is all about making great memories for these kids.”
Buckles married and raised her two children in Pennsylvania, where she recently retired from a thirty-five year career as a physical education teacher. After the death of her husband, she returned home to Mantua, and looks forward to seeing how the Ponytail League has grown and developed in her absence.
From two hard-scrabble teams in1964, playing for the love of the game on borrowed fields in mismatched shirts, to an organized league of about 175 players in 14 teams spread across three divisions, the Crestwood Ponytail League provides girls with opportunities to learn, participate, and excel. Thanks, in part, to the lessons she learned in the Crestwood Ponytail League, Buckles retired from a women’s softball league just three short years ago. Something I’m sure her father would be proud of.
The Crestwood Ponytail League provides slow pitch softball for girls age six through grade twelve. The season begins on April 1st and ends in mid July. For more information, visit the Crestwood Ponytail League on Facebook.