By Rachel Stone
In 1987, the Women’s Sports Foundation approached U.S. Congress with a simple goal: to finally bring women’s sports onto center stage.
Following the passage of Title IX 15 years earlier, girls’ and women’s participation in athletics rapidly surged across all levels: from grade school to professional. Despite this achievement, many Americans were still largely unaware of the volume and quality of women’s accomplishments in the world of sports. In response, President Ronald Reagan declared that “National Girls & Women in Sports Day” (NGWSD) would be celebrated during the first week of February every year. NGWSD was a step in the direction towards transforming the public’s perception of female athletes.
While the NGWSD Coalition is still dedicated to increasing awareness and celebrating women in sports, they also aim to increase access for girls in sports and motivate girls to develop courage, confidence and character through athletics. To honor this same vision, the Lewis & Clark athletics department held its third annual NGWSD Clinic on Feb. 4. At the event, LC student athletes led workshops that introduced their respective sports to community girls aged 6-12. According to Associate Director for External Relations Monica Baker, this year’s clinic was the largest to date, with 118 girls participating and over 60 student athlete volunteers representing six varsity sports. Kids were separated by age and shuffled from one 20-minute workshop to another, each girl trying all six sports.
The free clinic was available for anyone who showed up. Pole vaulter Tee Benko ’18 represented LC Track & Field at the NGWSD clinic, helping to teach field events. Benko saw the clinic as a great way to expose girls to sports, especially since parents often can not afford youth athletics.
“If the kid’s super into (a sport) then the parent might find a way to make it happen in the future,” Benko said.
Both Benko and Baker expanded on their beliefs about the importance of events like these. Benko believes it is crucial for girls to see strong female athletic role-models.
“Girls aren’t always as encouraged to do sports as boys are,” Benko said. She went on to describe her own experiences in middle school. “When a girl didn’t have a background in sports, they didn’t do active things because they felt like they couldn’t.”
Baker’s personal experience has led her to see the positive outcomes for females participating in sports.
“As a former student athlete and a parent of a young girl, I feel that this event is important because not only does it give young girls access to several different sports, but it also promotes courage and confidence in a positive environment,” Baker said.
While NGWSD events have nurtured positive environments at LC and all over the country, the national holiday also memorializes a tragedy. It was partly inspired by Flo Hyman, an American professional volleyball player who died suddenly from a rare undiagnosed genetic disorder. Hyman was an Olympic silver medalist and an inspiration on and off the court. Along the lines of the NGWSD vision, she believed that sports are a way for girls to gain courage and be their best selves.
“To be true to one’s self is the ultimate test in life,” Hyman once said. “Life is too precious to be dealt with in any other fashion.” The memory of Hyman’s character and accomplishments are a significant part of NGWSD around the nation.
Overall, Baker saw the clinic as a big success. She expects the event will continue to grow in coming years and encourages anyone interested to participate in next year’s clinic.