Before Suzanne (Strain) Lackman and Diane (Strain) McClelland were champions in empowering women and girls, they were just twin sisters that wanted to play tennis for their school.
Unfortunately, it was 1957 and David Douglas High School had no girl sports to offer outside of intramurals — Title IX, which is a federal regulation that forbids gender-based inclusion, was still 15 years away — not implemented in high schools until 1972.
So when David Douglas announced that they were adding tennis to its arsenal of boys sports, the two young freshmen decided they wanted to take a stand.
"When the school administration announced that there was going to be a boys' tennis team, we went to them and asked if we could have a girls' team as well. They said no and claimed that 'intramurals should be enough.' We said no to that. We wanted to have an interscholastic team like the boys," Lackman said. "Being 14 and facing that rejection. We were shocked when we were told that we couldn't do it."
After some push back, the administration decided to budge and told Lackman and McClelland that they needed to get 50 girls to sign up — an odd request due to the fact that they could only carry six girls on the team.
Considering that tennis teams today usually have around two dozen kids out for the sport, this seemed like an insurmountable task, especially for two 14-year olds. But thanks to public address announcements and posters around the school, 60 girls ended up signing up to play tennis. After a two-day tryout, Lackman and McClelland made the team of six.
Even with this accomplishment, Lackman and McClelland didn't at the time realize the magnitude of what they had just done for female athletics.
"We just felt that it was something important that we needed to do. We didn't think the situation was fair or equitable, but we had no idea the impact it would have over the next 60 years," McClelland said.
Tennis became a real passion for Lackman and McClelland in the third grade and their dreams initially went way beyond just playing for their high school.
"Our father got us started in playing and we would spend hours playing with each other by the back of the school. Suzanne and I had dreams of playing in Wimbledon some day. That was really a goal that we had," McClelland said. "Maintenance people at David Douglas thought that we never went home because they would see us playing before school and then later at night when everyone had already gone home. That is what really spurred us on. We didn't care about any barriers that we saw if front of us. We wanted to overcome it."
That hard work and dedication paid off for the two pioneers in their sophomore season. After their inaugural season, Lackman and McClelland were two big factors in the Scots winning the team state tennis championship in 1958. Despite having eight boys sports and just one girls sports that was only in its second season, this was David Douglas's first-ever state championship team.
"It was amazing. But people don't realize what we had to do to get to that point," McClelland said.
People might look back and be resentful to the people that initially stood in their way. But Lackman and McClelland are grateful to the administrators for at least giving them a chance.
"The three administrators ended up being fantastic supporters of us. They were really proud of us and really glad that we did what we did," Lackman said. "And we are grateful to them, because if they hadn't listened to us and given us a challenge, who knows what would have happened. We were the driving force behind creating a team, so we felt like it was our responsibility to get girls there. We were so happy that the administration gave us that goal because it gave us the opportunity to show them that we were serious."
When the two sisters graduated in 1960, their fight for equality and women's empowerment was far from over. In fact, their dream really came to fruition in 1996 when Lackman and McClelland created the Astra Women's Business Alliance.
Astra is a non-profit that provides women-owned businesses access to markets and contract opportunities with Fortune 500 companies through its partnership with WBENC (Women's Business Enterprise National Council). Astra is latin for "rising to the stars through difficulties."
"Having that experience in high school was really the catalyst for having this focus on helping women and girls for all the years. What we do here has become a pinnacle part of this extension to help women receive the equality that they need," McClelland said.
The mission of Astra Women's Business Alliance is to work proactively and cooperatively toward the elimination of marketplace barriers such that women-owned businesses receive access to and fair consideration of programs and projects that fund business growth and expansion.
"Being told that we couldn't do something that we should be able to do. That is what prompted me to get involved in equal rights for women. That's what we're doing now. Here at Astra, we're empowering women, certifying women and helping them get contacts with Fortune 500 companies. I have become a freedom fighter over the last 60 years, empowering those who are downtrodden," Lackman said. "And I expand that to everyone who isn't empowered. We are all like links in a chain, if there is a weak link, then the whole chain is weak."
During halftime of a David Douglas boys' basketball game against Reynolds, David Douglas honored several different sports teams from the 1950's and 60's, with Lackman and McClelland state title right at the forefront of it all.
"There were a lot of teams being honored at halftime from the 50's and 60's. But the first pennant that was on the wall for a state trophy was the girls tennis team from 1958, so that was fun to be apart of," McClelland said.
But the more special moment for Lackman and McClelland came a few months later at a David Douglas girls tennis match on April 4. Before the match, the current Scots squad surprised them with numerous bouquets of flowers and honorary letterman badges.
"It was unbelievable. The girls were shocked in hearing our story. They all wanted to take pictures with us and each one of them wrote letters to thank us for what we did when we were in high school. It was like we were celebrities," Lackman said. "The principal (John Bier) came out and told us that we not only started girls sports at David Douglas, we started it for the whole Eastside league."
Lackman and McClelland have seen women's athletics come a long ways since 1957. However, they know that there is still work be done in sports as well as other areas, but they want women to be encouraged and inspired by their story.
"I want young women to always remain curious and spend time getting to know who they are as an individual, because then you will really know what your gifts are, and to work on pursuing those things that you have a natural talent for, because you will become a beacon for people that are like-minded,"McClelland said. "We want women to have all the resources available to succeed."