I remember as a little girl filling out “The Bracket” with my dad in hopes of winning some money for a neon yellow skateboard. I didn’t watch any of the basketball games, but I did win some money for my skateboard.

This year, I watched more basketball than I have my entire life.

One reason is because I’ve been working with female collegiate athletes, and I wanted to see my athletes play. Another reason is being an Iowa girl, I was keen to watch the three Iowa teams who made it to The Bracket: Iowa State, Iowa, and Drake. Next year, I hope my alma mater University of Northern Iowa will make it. But I will cheer them all on. Always.

I also watched more basketball than ever because of the changes in March Madness-namely the NCAAW. The W is the difference between me watching-and not. Because representation matters. Women matter.

The W is my MOXIEmoment. Because until last year, March Madness only meant men-even though women have been playing D1 basketball since 1982.

Why does the W matter? Representation. It matters. To college athletes. To women. To Iowans. To girls. To me. Being seen, included, and valued matters. Here are three ways March Madness “represented” to me.

  1. NCAAW. Words matter. Letters matter. When I first saw the W, I was excited. And then deflated because I assumed that the men’s bracket would be NCAA. That like society-it would default to men.

But I was WRONG! The men’s bracket was labeled as NCAAM. Because of this one letter, people won’t assume you mean men when you say NCAA anymore. And in fact, maybe they will assume W because the final game of the NCAAW tournament Iowa (woohoo) v LSU broke records. 9.9 million viewers. I was one of them.

MOXIEchallenge: Pay attention to your language. Instead of freshman say first year. Instead of policeman say police officer. Recently, my cousin sent a wedding invite with my name first (she is MY cousin). I texted her and thanked her for her intentionality. She replied it was because of an etiquette book. To me, it’s not about rule following-it’s about seeing me. I am the connection.

Usually, when mail comes to Michael and me-even if I’m the account holder-Michael’s name is listed first. And occasionally, like when signing for FedEx, I become Kristi Bartus. Holiday cards from my relatives and friends come with Michael’s name first. I’m not alone. Women breadwinners filing taxes and taking out mortgages notice a strange pattern: Their husband’s name is always first (msn.com) Quit defaulting to men.

  1. #bewhatshecansee. Marian Wright Edelman said you can’t be what you can’t see. But like I share in my book, what if you don’t see what you can be? Both Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark said they wanted to inspire girls to see themselves with a ring-of the championship kind.

Angel said, “So this (championship) was for the girls who look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you. That’s what I did it for tonight. It was bigger than me tonight. It was bigger than me.”

Caitlin said, “I want my legacy to be the impact that I have on young kids and the people in the state of Iowa. I was just that young girl, so all you have to do is dream, and you can be in moments like this.”

MOXIEchallenge: Don’t let media and social media tell our stories. Being an Iowa girl, I initially was upset at Angel for “taunting” Caitlin. Then, I explored more than just what the camera wanted me to see; I listened to more voices and saw more images.

Holly Rowe tweeted, “People hating on Angel Reese or Caitlin Clark. Stop. Unapologetically confident young women should be celebrated NOT hated. Get used to it.”

LSU’s Angel Reese Isn’t Apologizing to Caitlin Clark, and She Doesn’t Have To | Teen Vogue

My job isn’t to judge; it’s to celebrate these women who are putting the W in poWer. Right in front of my eyes.

  1. Intersectionality. Angel also said, “I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in a box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it, ya’ll say nothing.”

Angel’s vulnerability is raw. It takes MOXIE to truth tell on national television when sponsorship dollars may be connected to it. Angel is unapologetic.

MOXIEchallenge: Be a #firstfollower. When a woman or girl says or does something that takes guts, stand beside her. Say something. Right then and there. Not afterwards in private. Have the moxie to do it in real time-when it matters most. I’m a #firstfollower of Iowa Girl Caitlin Clark and a #firstfollower of “Bayou Barbie” Angel Reese. Let’s make listening to all voices, asking questions, and busting echo chambers our default setting.

Where will you represent-#bewhatshecansee? What echo chamber do you need to bust? Who will you follow? Comment below! 

And like me, celebrate the W every day. MOXIEon! Kristi

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