Published on February 16, 2022
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was 1986 and I was a high school freshman at a small high school in Los Angeles. I was a typical kid – I enjoyed junk food, socializing with my friends and watching the Lakers. Growing up in this area in the 1980s, the opportunity to watch all-time NBA greats Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Coach Pat Riley and the rise of the Lakers dynasty was spellbinding. The one thing I knew for sure is that I wanted to play basketball.
Prior to the official first day of high school, all incoming freshmen arrived on campus for a two-day orientation to become acquainted with their new teachers and routines, and learn more about extracurricular offerings. As I listened to the faculty explain all of the high school offerings available to me – from theater to art to drama – my heart sank when I learned that there were almost no athletic options for girls. After completing the two-day school orientation, I was convinced that if I couldn’t play basketball, I would have to switch high schools.
I came home from the orientation and shared the disappointing news with my parents. Despite their encouragement about the other activities available to me, all I wanted was a shot to play basketball. With nothing to lose, I marched into the basketball coach’s office the next day and told him, “I want to play.” The basketball coach, Bill Ruehl, stared at me for a few unsettling moments and then said, “Suit up. See you on the court in 15 minutes.”
What I didn’t know at the time is that I was making history as the first female in the State of California to play boys varsity basketball. I wound up playing baseball on the boys’ team as well because my high school didn’t offer an equivalent opportunity for girls. What I didn’t know or fully appreciate at the time was that I had helped to change the game.
In 2022, on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a law which requires gender equality in education and any program receiving federal funds, I am reflecting on how this experience shaped who I am today. As Co-Founder and CEO of the sports and educational technology startup Honest Game, I have had the opportunity to help once again pave the way for other women; this time in business. Only 28% of startups have a female founder according to a recent Silicon Valley Bank report, and companies with all-women founding teams receive less than 3% of all US venture capital dollars. Once again, I’m one of just a few women playing in the game.
With that said, after two years, including working through the COVID-19 Pandemic, our all-women founded company is thriving. Honest Game recently completed a $2M capital fundraise, hired 11 full-time employees, and inked strong partnership deals with brands like Gatorade for their Fuel Tomorrow initiative and with Hudl, a leading video and analytics company for student-athletes.
Sports have also shaped my Co-founder Joyce Anderson’s life. Joyce played NCAA Division I college tennis and served as team captain for Columbia University in New York. Together, we founded Honest Game to drive access and equity in sport and open up post-secondary opportunities for students everywhere.
With the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year, it is undeniable how much sport has given to me and continues to give me. Sport inspired my confidence, provided me structure, taught me time management, instilled in me the value of being a team player, and drove home my never-quit mindset. Not surprising, a study by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW found that more than 50% of women who hold C-Suite positions are former college athletes. There is an irrefutable correlation between the impact of athletics on success in business.
Progress to drive gender equity in sport didn’t happen overnight, but its growth has been steady. In 1972, the year Title IX was enacted, there were just over 300,000 women and girls playing high school and college sports in the United States. Female athletes received 2% of college athletic budgets, while athletic scholarships for women were virtually nonexistent. Now, roughly one in every five girls in the US plays sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Before passage of Title IX, that number had been one in 27.
I am optimistic about this growth and the continued dividends from Title IX. It not only fuels women’s personal success and community impact, but also spreads to the rest of society. The strength, industry, and wisdom of women remains our greatest untapped resource to tackle life’s complex issues and drive meaningful impact in the world.
To learn more about Kim’s story, check out the 1986 story featuring her from the Los Angeles Times.
By Kim Michelson, Honest Game Co-Founder and CEO
Kim has mentored hundreds of student-athletes through the college recruiting and eligibility process to help them attain their dream of playing collegiate sports. During her tenure as the Executive Director of Beyond Sports Foundation, 89% of their students matriculated to four-year universities on athletic scholarships. Interested in working with Honest Game? Contact us.