In 1975, freshman Melissa Isaacson – along with a group of other girls who’d spent summers with their noses pressed against the fences of Little League ball fields, unable to play – entered Niles West High School in suburban Chicago with one goal: make a team, any team.
Title IX had just passed three years earlier, prohibiting gender discrimination in education programs or activities, including athletics. As a result, states like Illinois began implementing varsity competition – and state tournaments – for girls’ high school sports.
State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation (Agate) is Isaacson’s compelling first-person account of an unlikely group of high school girls who came together to win one of their state’s first high school basketball championships. The author shares what it was like in the 1970s for her and her teammates to live through both gender discrimination in sports and the joy of the very first days of equality – or at least the closest that one high school girls’ sports team ever came to it.
At the time, Isaacson and her teammates didn’t fully understand the legislation. All they knew was that they finally had opportunities – to play, to learn, to sweat, to lose, to win – and an identity: they were athletes, a team.
With intimate insights of the girl who lives it, the pacing of a storyteller, and the painstaking reporting of a veteran sports journalist, Isaacson chronicles one high school team’s journey to the state championship.
The experience of writing the book, says Isaacson, was a sincere joy, “even at its toughest moments of struggling for the right perspective… Reliving some of the happiest moments of my young life while uncovering and examining some of the darkest of mine and my teammates’ has consumed a chunk of my adult life.”
Isaacson talks about what it is like seeing her daughter’s experience playing sports: “It was almost a joke when she would come home each season with a new, seemingly better, cooler, more dazzling uniform in soccer, basketball and softball. Of course, she had zero appreciation for just how special it was to even have a uniform.”
The author’s hope is that her victories, both on and off the court, “will resonate with readers today because so many of our experiences are eerily similar to those that girls and women are still going through.”
“Basketball removed us from our troubled homes and sad circumstances and transformed us,” Isaacson writes. “It instilled confidence and gave us our identities. We were no longer tomboys or outcasts or even normal girls with unusual interests.”
“To say that basketball changed us wouldn’t be fully accurate. In truth… it saved us all.”
State is now available for purchase.
About Melissa Isaacson
Melissa Isaacson is an award-winning sportswriter, author, lecturer, and public speaker. Over her 36-year career, she has had long tenures with the Orlando Sentinel, the Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com covering every major U.S. sports championship and the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. She was the Tribune’s first woman general sports columnist. She has written two other sports books and is currently on the faculty of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.