Describing myself as a boy who grew up to be a sports enthusiast is an understatement. If a sport involved a ball, not only did I have an interest in it, but I also seemed to excel in it. I also loved to watch sporting events. Basketball, football, and baseball were my favorites, like most kids at that time. When the Olympics, Mohamed Ali fights, or Arnold Palmer-Jack Nicholas golf battles were on TV, I was watching them. One epic contest I remember watching was the “Battle of the Sexes” in May, 1973. This match-up involved a former Number 1 male tennis player, Bobby Riggs (retired and in his 50s), and Billie Jean King, a female player nearly half of Riggs age and at the top of her game in the world of women’s tennis. Riggs had boastfully challenged the female star to a winner-take-all $100,000 contest in the Houston Astrodome, to be nationally televised. Billie Jean not only accepted the challenge, but convincingly won the match in straight sets (6-2, 6-1). The brash and cocky Riggs faded into obscurity and is now only remembered as the “Man that got beat by a woman” (not the first time for a man to lose the battle of the sexes)!
Fast forward over 40 years and I now find myself teaching strength and conditioning classes at the YMCA. During casual conversation with two members of my class, Patti Mangual and Jayne Sharp, I was invited to come out the play a round of golf with them at their home course, Bermuda Run. I had to think about this for a minute. When I joined the coaching ranks in 1979, I was a casual golfer. But like most coaches, golf quickly became a weekly routine which lasted into the 80s. My golf game became pretty good! In 1990, I accepted my first head football coach position at RJ Reynolds High School and became a first-time father in the same year. I realized that it took a lot of time and sacrifice to be a good husband, father, and coach. Along came another child, little league baseball, Pop Warner football, church, school activities, helping with homework, chores around the house, and many other duties of putting two kids through college. This left no time for golf. But the fact that I had not played golf in 24 years did not stop me from accepting the ladies’ invitation. I not only agreed to play them, but I challenged them to a friendly “Battle of the Sexes” contest. The Bobby Riggs mentality in me was confident that I could pick up another male hacker and maybe (if they were lucky), the ladies could keep it close. Another member of our exercise class, Larry Harbin, was the perfect partner. Larry typically played golf about every 10 years on special occasions. The Battle of the Sexes was set!
The Friday morning of the big match started out to be the perfect day to be on a golf course. The sky was clear and there was just enough chill in the air to remind us that fall was around the corner. I walked into the clubhouse and noticed something on the wall that told me the day might not be so easy. Patti Mangual’s name proudly topped the leader board from the previous night’s golf competition. A little shaken, I reminded myself that this match was against two women. Larry, on the other hand, just glared at me and asked, “What have you gotten us into?” When our opponents arrived, I asked Patti about her victory the night before. She replied, “I played well and Jayne did not play last night, but she usually wins.” I started to worry that these women might actually beat us. I did not have to wait long to find out.
Recapping the match starts with the ladies hitting the ball down the fairway while Larry and I found every tree, ruff, sand trap, and water hazard on the course. After one hole we were one shot back; after two holes we were two shots back. The women had us closed out on the front 9 after only 6 holes, so we naturally pressed and lost. The back 9 was no better. We lost both the front and back 9, three presses, and the match. The women were thankfully gracious, although they occasionally reminded me of my over-confidence prior to the match. As we walked off of the 18th green, Jayne turned to me and said, “Thanks for all of the hard workouts. I can hit the ball much farther now.” Normally I would take this as a compliment, but it did not feel like one on that day.
Just as Bobby Riggs had done 40 years ago, I had run my mouth and was having to eat humble pie as a result. It’s never too late to learn important life lessons. Though I never considered myself a sexist, I suppose the fact that I assumed I could never be beaten by a female in a sporting event might make me sound like one. I now publically admit that women can stand up to men in all aspects of life! I would, however, have trouble believing that a woman could beat me in a football throwing contest. Any takers??