Maggie Steele, the heroine in the new sports novel, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, faces many obstacles in her attempt to overcome tragedy and hardship on her tiny Kansas farm.
One of her biggest challenges is overcoming the gender bias of local townspeople, clergy, and school board members, who seem to be living in a time warp some 40 years in the past — before Title IX guaranteed girls the right to have equal access to sports.
The young adult novel by Grant Overstake, captures the struggle of a teenager overwhelmed by grief and uncertain about her future. Despite powerful opposition, she finds her destiny through the sport of pole-vaulting, a track and field event that was once considered too dangerous and therefore inappropriate for girls.
The story of Maggie Steele’s setbacks in the face of gender bias struck a chord with USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, regarded as the top female sportswriter in the nation and an important voice for gender equality in sports.
In addition to being an award-winning sports columnist for USA Today, an on-air commentator for ABC News, CNN, NPR, Fox Sports radio, and the author of seven books, including the national best-seller Inside Edge, Brennan has covered the last 14 Olympic Games, Winter and Summer, beginning with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Her three books on figure skating include Inside Edge, which was named one of the top 100 sports books of all-time by Sports Illustrated. Brennan also broke the news of the pairs figure skating scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Most importantly in this context, Brennan has written and spoken extensively on women’s sports issues. Her 2002 USA Today column on Augusta National Golf Club triggered the national debate on the club’s lack of female members.
Here’s what Brennan says about the potential impact of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon:
“This inspiring book comes along at a perfect time, on the 40th anniversary of Title IX and in the same year as women athletes dominated the 2012 London Olympics,” Brennan says. “Girls who play sports and the coaches and families who support them will thoroughly enjoy Grant Overstake’s warm, uplifting story. After reading it, we’ll all wish we were pole vaulters like Maggie.”
Over the past decade, hundreds of girls have taken up the sport of pole-vaulting, finding within themselves the courage to overcome the highest obstacles. The National Federation of State High School Associations doesn’t have a specific number of high school girls’ pole vaulters in the United States, but Greg Hull, who works with the NFHS as a track and field/pole vaulting consultant, estimates the number at around 15,000.
A number of pole-vaulting clubs have sprung up across the nation and its believed that a vast number of participants in these clubs are girls. One of these clubs is the Tailwind Pole Vaulting Club, in Jamestown, Kansas, led by Dr. Mark Breault, a coach who has seen many of his female vaulters qualify for the Kansas State Championships and go on to vault on college scholarships, including current State Champion Taylor Marie Swanson.
Swanson, now a freshman vaulter at Arkansas State University, strongly identifies with Maggie’s love for the sport in Maggie Vaults Over the Moon: “Maggie’s inspirational story will make any girl feel like they can accomplish their dreams. This is a MUST read for any athlete, no matter what sport you compete in,” Swanson says.
One longtime female pole-vaulter is Team USA Olympic vaulter Becky Holliday, 32, who began vaulting at Reed High School in Sparks, Nev., in the 1990s. Jumping 11′ 9″ she won the Nevada state title in her second year of vaulting. Now a professional athlete who has soared over 15 feet in the event and was a finalist at the London Olympics, Holliday had this to say about pole-vaulting and Maggie Vaults Over the Moon:
“I myself experienced loss when I was a young girl,” Holliday says. “Sports were my outlet and helped me through some of the hardest times of my life. One of the things I love most about pole-vault is how much it relates to real life. When your out on a limb, there is always risk. But with greater risk there can be better reward! This book captured me cover to cover. I highly recommend Maggie Vault Over The Moon!“
In creating the story of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, author Grant Overstake, a former college decathlete and sportswriter for the Miami Herald, drew upon his own experience growing up as a high school athlete in the mid-1970s, just as Title IX began giving his female classmates the right to compete in interscholastic sports. One of those girls was his future wife.
“My high school sweetheart, Claire Brewer Overstake, was among the first women athletes to receive a sports scholarship to college, to run track at Wichita State University on that school’s first women’s track team,” Overstake recalled. “Looking back on it now, she was one of the pioneers who paved the way for thousands of other female athletes to follow. She was a far more talented athlete than I was and because of Title IX she was given her chance to shine.
“In the story, Maggie Steele faces gender bias and prejudice that you would hope had been put behind us by now, 40 years after Title IX, but there are still some people who just don’t get it,” he added. “Maggie faces these people and, well, you’ll have to read the book to see how she deals with it.”
There are many resources available for female athletes who believe they are being discriminated against, including Save Title IX, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and the National Women’s Law Center. Below is more info about Title IX from these Websites:
Before Title IX
Things were different. The primary physical activities for girls were cheerleading and square-dancing. Only 1 in 27 girls played high school sports. There were virtually no college scholarships for female athletes. And female college athletes received only two percent of overall athletic budgets.
Why Title IX Is Still Critical
The general perception is that girls now have equal opportunities in all areas of athletics. But that’s just not true.
- Schools are providing 1.3 million fewer chances for girls to play sports in high school as compared to boys. While more than half of the students at NCAA schools are women, they receive only 44% of the athletic participation opportunities.
- Female athletes at the typical Division I-FBS (formerly Division I-A) school receive roughly: 28% of the total money spent on athletics, 31% of the recruiting dollars, and 42% of the athletic scholarship dollars.
- In 2008, only 43% of coaches of women’s teams were women. In 1972, the number was over 90 percent.
Support The High School Athletics Transparency Acts
- The following toolkit will help you determine if your school is providing equal opportunities for girls and women: Toolkit: Check It Out: Is the Playing Field Level for Women and Girls at Your School? (NWLC)
- The Battle for Gender Equity in Athletics in Elementary and Secondary Schools (NWLC)
- The Battle for Gender Equity in Athletics in Higher Education (NWLC)
- Debunking the Myths About Title IX and Athletics (NWLC)