Goalie Hope Solo helped the U.S. women’s soccer team shut out Brazil to win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. (NICHOLAS KAMM/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

There’s an important birthday this week: Title IX turns 40 years old on Saturday.

Title IX is the law that requires schools that receive money from the federal government to give their female students opportunities equal to those of their male students. That includes school sports.

Title IX has made a big, and very positive, change in how female athletes are treated. Statistics are important in sports, so let’s look at some eye-popping stats.

When Title IX was passed in 1972, only 295,000 girls competed in high school sports in the United States, compared with 3.67 million boys. During the 2010-11 school year, 3.2 million girls played high school sports, as did 4.5 million boys. That’s a lot more girls playing soccer or basketball or running track.

Similarly, there were almost no college athletic scholarships for women 40 years ago. Now, almost 200,000 women play college sports, and many of those athletes get scholarships.

Dara Torres, who earned a scholarship to the University of Florida in the 1980s, is competing for a spot on her sixth Olympic swim team at age 45. (Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press)

All this is important because studies show that girls who play sports are more likely than other girls to graduate from high school and get better grades. Girls who play sports are also more likely to be healthy and less likely to get into trouble than girls who don’t play sports.

Not everything has become perfectly equal since Title IX. More money and attention are given to boys’ sports than girls’ sports, especially at the college level. Many girls — particularly African American and Hispanic girls in poorer areas — do not have opportunities to play sports. (Nor do minority and poor boys.)

Still, things are now so much better for girls who want to play sports. Let’s celebrate! But how?

It’s always best to celebrate a birthday with family and friends. So whether you are a girl or a boy, talk to your mom, grandmother or any woman you know who is 40 or older about what it was like for girls when they were growing up.

Ask them: What sports did they play? Were the rules different for the girls? How many of their girlfriends played sports? Were girls not allowed to play certain sports? Is there a sport they wish they had played? What did their uniforms look like?

Their answers may surprise you. But I’m sure you’ll learn how much Title IX has changed sports for girls.

Don’t forget the cake and ice cream! Title IX’s birthday is a great excuse to eat some sweets.

Lisa Leslie, who helped the U.S. women’s basketball team win four Olympic gold medals, was born the same year that Title IX was adopted. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Just remember to put 40 candles on the cake.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for the KidsPost. His latest book, “Go for the Goal!,” will be published in August and includes a history of the 1999 U.S. women’s World Cup-winning team.