Alan Page, former Minnesota Vikings great and retired associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, watched granddaughter Amelia compete in the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation flag football playoffs last week.
Amelia and her Armatage Park teammates are the first and only all-girls team in the sixth-grade division. Lost in enjoying her friends and trying to win a semifinal playoff game, Amelia wasn't pondering what she represented: a third-generation Page breaking down forms of exclusion.
Grandfather Alan, 77, understands the through-line binding him, the first Black person to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court;son Justin, a lawyer who won a case against the Minnesota State High School League to help students with learning disabilities, and now, Justin's daughter.
Alan said his wife, the late Diane Sims Page, "grew up at a time when girls were discouraged from participating. She found her passion in running after taking it up when she was about 30 years old. Maybe there would've been something else, but who knows? Because she never had the opportunity to try all this."
Not so for Amelia. She and a few friends from their Linden Hills neighborhood created their own opportunity. They were bored with watching their older brothers play football.
They wanted in.
The girls struggled as fourth-graders new to the sport. But as time passed and the girls played more games in both the National Flag Football and Minneapolis Parks and Recreation leagues, they started winning many of their games against all-boys teams.
In the first half of Wednesday's game, Alan Page marveled at one of the girls who intercepted a pass.
"She went and got it and was flying when she caught it," he said.
There was incentive to not just catch the ball but to take it back for a touchdown. Amelia created a team trophy, a medallion on a chain, for such plays. The interception didn't result in a score, but it represented how the girls have evolved.
"When they started, they were kind of lost," said Alan Page, a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle. "They didn't have any confidence and were uncertain about what they were doing. The second year, it was like night and day. It was like they brought in 10 new people. They weren't intimidated by it anymore. They learned that if they kept at it, they weren't always going to lose. And that they could compete. That's been fun to watch."
Lifting up an underdog is part of Justin Page's purpose. Minnesota high school students who repeat a grade because of learning disabilities no longer risk losing their athletics opportunities as seniors thanks to Page's legal victory against the Minnesota State High School League. Several families had taken legal action to fight the league's bylaw, but Justin Page was believed to be the first to win a court decision.
"How can you not be proud of somebody who stands up for those who need help?" Alan Page said. "What attracted me to the law, among other things, was growing up in the 1950s when there was state-sponsored segregation across the country. The Supreme Court decided Brown versus the Board of Education, and that case gave me a sense of the power of the law to change people's lives for the better."
Amelia's team lost 14-12. But competing well can be its own reward.
"We're 50 years out from Title IX," Justin Page said. "I think of my mom who passed away a few years ago. When she was in grade school, at Amelia's age, she couldn't do any of this.
"We're still a long way from perfect. But we're getting better. And I think this teaches her that anything is possible."