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Serena Williams matched Martina Navratilova, left, and Chris Evert, right, with 18 career Grand Slam titles. (Associated Press)

Steve Christilaw: Let’s enjoy, and learn from, women’s sports

Perhaps it’s just because I vividly remember those early days of Title IX. Or maybe it’s because I grew up listening to stories about how girls basketball was more popular than the boys game when my mother was growing up in Iowa.

Mostly, I am certain, it’s because I wholeheartedly believe that kids of either gender benefit from learning how to play a sport.

And definitely because I have, at last count, two wonderful granddaughters.

No matter how you stack it, I find that I enjoy women’s sports as much, if not more, than the male version of the game.

I wasn’t around in the early days of men’s basketball, those days when peach baskets were used for goals and Bobby Knight was still learning how to work referees.

But I was around to watch the changes brought by Title IX.

I am still troubled by the fact that, when I was a high school student, the only music the girls basketball team would hear from its own pep band was when we tuned up before playing the National Anthem for the boys game that followed.

It took a while for girls sports to find its footing. Those early State B girls basketball tournaments were tough to watch at times, but the improvement curve was steep and it’s turned the game into an exciting brand of the basketball.

I remember being thrilled to watch Nancy Lieberman and Anne Donovan and the Lady Monarchs of Old Dominion.

And I remember getting into arguments over who was the better player, Dave Meyers, who was an All-American at UCLA who played for the Milwaukee Bucks, or his sister, Ann Meyers. I sided with Ann then, and I’m still there now.

If you’re a World Cup soccer fan, you share my passion for the United States Women’s National Team.

I got the chance to meet Michelle Akers in the days before the women captured their first World Cup and set the world on its ear celebrating with Brandy Chastain on her cup-winning penalty kick.

Akers played her high school soccer at Seattle’s Shorecrest High, and I chatted with her over the course of her career. Her play in the midfield, I think, is a major reason why the teams she captained were so successful – and she’s a major reason why Mia Hamm was able to be so effective scoring goals.

I want my granddaughters to know about these women and so many more like them – Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Cheryl Miller, Lauren Jackson and Lisa Leslie.

I want them to know about NCAA women’s basketball coach Jennifer Mountain, about how she was integral in the rise of women’s basketball at Gonzaga and, before that, was the boys basketball coach at St. George’s.

I want them to understand the importance of the time when San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon became the first woman to be a head coach in the NBA.

I want them to watch and appreciate the greatness of a player like Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird, who is having a playoff run for the ages at 37.

What I want them to glean from this knowledge is simple: The only limitations that truly apply to you in life are the ones you, yourself, allow to be placed on yourself. You can rise to meet whatever challenge comes your way. You will win more than your share of such challenges, and when you don’t, treat losing with a sense of grace and dignity and honor in knowing that you met it with your very best effort.

But I also want them to realize that there will be attempts to limit them that they cannot control. That there are people who will assume that, because of their gender, they are less capable than their male counterparts.

There is a long way to go before such assumptions are eliminated.

We saw just how much this last weekend, when Serena Williams had a heated clash with an official during her finals match at the U.S. Open.

I believe what happened in the match was as much about the official’s overheated sense of machismo as it was about how a highly competitive tennis champion reacted to petty injustice.

What I disagree with are the reports about how “Serena had a meltdown.” Having watched John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi display worse conduct that was deemed by the same press as a “temper flare.” None such displays will be condoned when it comes to the next generation, but part of stoking the fire of competition is the occasional spill of temper.

What I want my granddaughters to take away from this episode happened after the dust settled.

When the U.S. Open crowd showed their displeasure by booing during the awards ceremony, Serena Williams took the mic and asked them to please stop. She told them they were diminishing the great accomplishment of her opponent, Naomi Osaka. They needed to respect that, celebrate that.

That, in a nutshell, is what I believe we all can learn from sport: sportsmanship.

He no longer has the mic on college football Saturdays, and I find that a personal loss as well as a loss for the next generation that will come to know Washington State Cougars football without the voice of Bob Robertson.

We should all remember Bob’s closing words on every broadcast. Every day.

“Always be a good sport; be a good sport all ways.”