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By Kim Constantinesco

The greatest lessons are learned when empathy runs wild.

No one shows that quite like dynamic girls’ soccer coach Reynalda Wallace in When Girls Became Lions, the first ever novel centered around Title IX.

Written by Valerie J. Gin and Jo Kadlecek, two former college athletes and college coaches, When Girls Became Lions carries readers through time and space as two worlds collide. The narratives of two girls’ soccer teams from the same high school — one championship team from 1983 and one coming-of-age team in 2008 — perfectly weave what it means to dive into the world of women’s athletics.

The novel will strike a cord with anyone, particularly any athlete or coach, past or present, who has wondered, ‘how would my identity shift’ had it not been for Title IX giving women an equal opportunity to train, compete, and learn about oneself in the process?

Rey Wallace, the new young girls’ soccer coach and English teacher at Claymont Falls High School comes to learn that the school’s championship soccer team from 1983 was never recognized as such. In fact, everyone in small Ohio town where the book is set, save a few people with deep ties to the squad, would rather conceal the team and their efforts.

Screen shot 2016-03-21 at 8.06.37 PMSo, Wallace takes it upon herself to find out why the school’s first championship team, girls or boys, was never celebrated. Then naturally, she takes it a step further, and tries to rectify the problem herself. In the process of comparing what lies behind her and before her, she opens herself up to growth and inspiration, discovering that life is truly lived (and won) when we take risks, stand up for what’s right, embrace change, and let go of certain expectations.

Generations of women and their stories overlap when it comes to facing and beating the odds surrounding Title IX. When Girls Became Lions indirectly takes us into the space of some of those stories. Themes of bravery, appreciation, and friendship give the title its radiance. That, and the women who have come before us, of course.

Q&A with Lions’ co-author Jo Kadlecek

P2P: It’s so hard to believe that there aren’t any other Title IX novels out there. Why do you think that is? 

Jo: Great question. It seems to me that real Title IX issues so often fly under the radar, buried beneath male-dominated sports coverage, that it makes it difficult to tell any Title IX stories, non-fiction or fiction! It’s not that they aren’t out there—it’s just that the decision makers in publishing aren’t yet convinced there’s a market for women’s sports fiction. But just seeing the growing popularity of girls sports, women’s soccer and other women’s pro teams/sports, to us, makes this feel like an untapped market, a sleeping giant if you will. And so of course, we’re hoping WHEN GIRLS BECAME LIONS becomes one of many such novels out there that explores Title IX as well as other women’s sports stories, helping folks better understand the pioneers who paved the way for today’s opportunities.

P2P: Tell us about character development. Did you pull from your past relationships with coaches and teammates in deciding how these characters would evolve.

Jo: Sure did. Many of these characters are composites of former teammates, friends and coaches—as life-long athletes and college coaches, we had a lot of good material to draw from! Unfortunately, that goes both ways, from the characters who want to block progress and opportunity for girls, to the brave souls who kept at it, advocating for everyone to have a chance to play. And the primary plot story—of an unrecognized championship team getting its due—is straight out of a friend’s life (and Val’s as well).

P2P: What’s the most surprising reaction/review you’ve received since releasing the book?

Jo: Some fathers of women playing college sports have read it and said they were really stirred by the themes in the book. These dads said they learned a lot reading it in terms of what women have had to endure just to play in a game they’d always taken for granted. That’s been the most surprising, and certainly rewarding. But it’s also been inspiring to hear from young female athletes (in their teens and twenties) who have told us they finally had a book where they could relate to the story and the protagonist! That’s music to us, and a primary reason for writing it!

P2P: Let’s say you’re sitting next to a man in his 60’s at a baseball game. He asks you what you do for a living, and the conversation steers toward Lions. How might you gently nudge him into reading the book?

Jo: (Another zinger of a question!) We’d say: You obviously care about sports, since you’re here watching this game! And I’m sure you care about the women in your life, many of whom are probably stronger women because of their involvement in athletics, yes? So I’m willing to bet you a hot dog that WHEN GIRLS BECAME LIONS is your kind of story—because it shows the great things that can happen when men and women work together to give young players the opportunity to participate in the games they love. Bonus: it provides some insight (for men) as to what women athletes—and the men who support them—are up against just to pursue their dreams on the field. Besides, Bailey Crawford, the male coach around whom most of the story revolves, is a great example of a coach who knows how to motivate his team, for all the right reasons. So?

P2P: Finally, do you see this being a series?

Hmmm. Val has a sequel cooking up in her head that we have talked about a bit. And we’ve already been asked a few times for the next book. But I’m not sure it’s a series as much as we hope it’s a springboard for other women’s sports novels by other authors to get out there. Or how about a movie version of WHEN GIRLS BECAME LIONS?!

When Girls Became Lions is available in print and e-book. Purchase your copy today!

When Girls Became Lions – now available! from Christopher Gilbert on Vimeo.