“There are so many life lessons in team sports.”

I grew up in what was basically the the Little Italy of Mineral Point. A neighborhood we called the South Side.

Photos by Megan Monday

Vickie Dahl | Mineral Point, WI

“My grandfather immigrated from Italy in 1902. He and his two brothers came in through New York’s Ellis Island, and they got a job with a railroad company that was laying track. When it stopped in Mineral Point, my grandfather felt that this area reminded him a lot of the region he came from in Italy, the Calabria region. It reminded him so much of back home that he decided to settle here. 

He got a job at a company called the Zinc Works, because he knew that that would be steady work for him and his family. So he worked at the Zinc Works, and he had a small farm, and then he had lot of children—15.

Most of those 15 stayed on the South Side after they grew up, too. So when I was a kid, I was surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, and some really close neighbors. There were a lot of us. When we would get together and play football, we’d have enough for two teams. We’d play softball and we’d have enough for two teams. That’s how many kids we had growing up and getting together and hanging out in the neighborhood and playing games.

There were always pickup games, and I was always playing against boys. Being a girl who wanted to play wasn’t a problem; the boys always wanted me on their team.

I was pretty good, I guess you could say. But I was always interested—even through school, out on the playground and stuff, I always had a tendency to want to be in the football game with the boys instead of playing jump rope or other games.”

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“When I was little, there weren’t sports for girls in high school. So knowing that I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to play sports like the boys did, my parents were always encouraging me to go out and play where I could. My mom would say, ‘Well, you don’t need to help with the dishes, you can go out and play.’

In fact, I didn’t really know about this because my mom never talked about it, but one of her cousins told me that my mom was a really great softball player back in her day.

She was great at it, but she had to sneak out of the house to play because my grandmother forbid it. Now I think that's why my mom supported my desire to play so much.

My dad was pretty athletic, and I always used to think, ‘Well, I probably took after my dad,’ but in all reality I guess I got my athletic ability from both of them.”

“As a kid I would go to these athletic events and watch my brothers or my male relatives play. In the back of my mind, it was always like, ‘Why can’t girls do this? I can play this sport, how come we don’t have teams?’

Then when I was a freshman in high school, they passed Title IX, which is the law that states that you can’t prohibit a student from participating in a school program based on sex. So suddenly we could play. I remember our first uniforms. We just took our one-piece gym outfits and taped our numbers on the back. Or some girls had white t-shirts with numbers colored in by magic marker.

My basketball coach in high school made a huge impression on me. His name was Jeff. He was definitely a tough coach, but I learned a lot from him, not just about basketball but all aspects of life. He was always pushing me to become a better. He challenged me to become the best player I could be, and it was tough, because I would get so frustrated.

I don't think people, even to this day, understand how much time coaches put in to make their players better.

Even back then, we’d have our games videotaped and he’d be breaking down film and watching and saying, ‘Okay, this is what you did here, this is what you should do.’ Taking that time and giving that constructive criticism to become a better player. I tell you, I was just so fortunate to have teachers who taught me to not only stick up for myself but to have great character. All those teachers got me thinking, ‘You know, maybe I want to teach, too. And if I get into education, I can coach, and that’s something I’d really like to do.’

So that’s what I did. I was a PE teacher first, and this is my 28th year in the district. They asked me to be principal of the middle school about four years ago, and I’m also the athletic director for both the middle and high schools.”

“There are so many life lessons in team sports. Like, when you go through life, you’re not always going to win at things. There’s going to be disappointments, there’s going to be heartbreaks, but you have to be able to accept those head-on and work yourself through it. Every game there’s a winner and a loser, and you have to be able to handle it.

I’m so glad that girls play now, because we've had young ladies that have been able to develop leadership skills through sports. Athletics also keeps you organized because you have to balance so many things. Games, practice, grades, homework, responsibilities—you really have to organize your time.

Some of our girls are three-sport athletes and have very high GPAs so they’re very strong academically, but then they’re in FFA, and forensics, and FBLA, and they’re members of the National Honors Society. When you look at everything that goes on, it just amazes me sometimes.

I see a lot of girls developing self-confidence and self-discipline because they’re playing athletics. Obviously teamwork and cooperation are huge lessons, because you’re working towards a common goal. I tell our kids, when you graduate high school, go to college and go out in the workforce, you’re going to be working with other people and you need to get along with people, you need to be able to cooperate. Teamwork is a part of life. The self-confidence and the self-discipline that I’ve seen girls develop because of playing athletics, it makes me so proud. And it makes me really love what I do.”

-Vickie Dahl | Mineral Point, WI

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