Wichita women help bridge the sports-gender gap

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) -- This year marks the 32nd anniversary of National Girls & Women in Sports Day, an observance celebrating gender equality in sports.

Female athletes have one day this year to celebrate what makes them who they are every single day of the earth's rotation, and Wichita State women's basketball players are seizing every moment.

"It's an honor to be a woman," said senior forward Rangie Bessard. "It's such a powerful thing. I mean, when you think of it, where would men really be without women?"

Senior guard Keke Thompson is thankful to live in a more progressive era where she can fulfill her dreams.

"I think it's a blessing to be a woman in today's society when you're able to get the same opportunities as men, because our grandmothers didn't have the same chances we had," she said.

They're making sure the next generation gets those chances too, by passing on their wisdom and ensuring each young fan leaves smiling each night, even after a painful loss to a conference foe.

"Always have heart, always have passion, and always have the mentality that you can compete with the best of the best," Bessard said.

And then there is the Shockers' former coach Linda Hargrove, who was honored for her dedicated work for women's sports in Wichita during her 30-plus year coaching tenure. But Hargrove said we're not done yet.

"When you look at the last 40 years to where we are now, it's almost overwhelming," she said. "But to see how much farther we can go and where we should be in the conversation every day, is something I look forward to happening before my day is done."

Overwhelming is one way to describe the strides made. It's a word Hannah "Mighty' Mortimer used to describe her journey from Southeast of Saline, to Wichita State University, to now the Harlem Globetrotters.

"I'm blessed to be on such an iconic basketball team and perform on this specific day," Mortimer said.

But Mortimer, like Hargrove, wants the day to eventually become an arbitrary holiday, instead of the one day per year to celebrate female athletes.

"You don't see us as 'female athletes', you see us as 'athletes,'" she said. "So I want there to be a connection there and I want one day women are just athletes playing the game out here like the males."

Title IX ensured equal opportunities through education and sports for women in 1972, but female athletes are still pushing for equal representation and compensation.

National Girls and Women in Sports Day is a great start, because it puts women's sports in the forethought, but keep in mind it's only one day of the year.

We will not bridge the gender gap until all genders are represented the other 364 days of the year.

And frankly, it starts with us.