This year's National Girls and Women in Sports Day held on February 6 celebrated the 30-year anniversary of Title IX, the federal legislation that has opened many doors for women and girls in sports.
National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD), now in its 16th year, is celebrated in all 50 states and by universities, colleges, high schools and middle schools with a variety of activities, all encouraged and supported by the five organizations that join forces to promote and organize it: Girls Incorporated, Girls Scouts of the USA, the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, the Women's Sports Foundation and the YWCA of the U.S.A.
NGWSD was organized 16 years ago to remember and honor the dignity, spirit and commitment to excellence of U.S. Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman, who died suddenly of Marfan's Syndrome during a volleyball game in 1986. Since then, the day has evolved into a time to acknowledge the past and recognize the present sports achievements of women, as well as the positive benefits of sports participation for women and girls.
NGWSD on the Hill
This year's celebration in Washington, D.C., featured Joy Griffin, president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, who addressed a luncheon in the U.S. Capitol attended by members of Congress and their staffs, supporting organizations and numerous champion female athletes.
"It was an honor and a privilege for me to celebrate 30 years of Title IX on National Girls and Women in Sports Day by bringing the message of its great success and even greater potential to many of our leaders in the nation's capital," Griffin said. "At the White House and the Department of Education, we talked about the benefits of sport as an educational experience that may provide personal awareness, knowledge and growth.
"Our meetings brought attention to the need to provide quality programs and equal access for sport participation for girls and women, educate about the importance of having girls and women in sport leadership roles and advocate for increased career opportunities for all women in sport. The essence of Title IX is to provide educational opportunities through sport for all our boys and girls, and men and women."
Numerous athletes, including Dominique Dawes (gymnastics), Donna de Verona (swimming), Julie Foudy (soccer), Dot Richardson (softball) and Ruth Riley (basketball) also were on Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers, as were representatives of many of the organizations that make up the coalition to present NGWSD.
Athena Yiamouyiannis, executive director of NAGWS and a former NCAA director of membership services, was among those who attended the Washington events, which included letters delivered to lawmakers encouraging stronger support of Title IX.
"It's important to remind people that Title IX has resulted in increased opportunities for an entire generation of women and girls," Yiamouyiannis said. "Celebrating NGWSD is one way for us to remember the many gains of the last 30 years."
Each year on NGWSD, the Women's Sports Foundation awards its highest honor, the Flo Hyman Award, to an outstanding female athlete who exemplifies Hyman's dignity, spirit and commitment to excellence on and off the field.
This year's winner was Dot Richardson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, 23-year veteran of the U.S. women's softball team and also an orthopedic surgeon.
Richardson was honored at the Congressional luncheon in Washington. She said the honor was meaningful because of what Flo Hyman herself stood for. "Not only was she an elite athlete in the sport of volleyball, but she lived her life with a commitment, dedication and passion for making a difference for the future of girls and women in sport," Richardson said.
In an interview with the Women's Sports Foundation, Richardson recalled the benefits she has gained from athletics participation.
"Without a doubt, athletics has prepared me for my career as an orthopedic surgeon. In the operating room, it takes a team effort in order to perform the best for the person who has entrusted their life to you," she said. (Athletics has) provided me with the ability to recognize the talent and importance of others and the ability to face challenges, knowing that it is only the drive to be the best that you can be that truly defines success."
Past recipients of the award include gymnast Mary Lou Retton; tennis champions Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert; track and field stars Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Evelyn Ashford; golfers Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan; Olympic speedskater Bonnie Blair; and basketball champions Lisa Leslie and Lynette Woodard.
A day to remember
Colleges and universities across the country participate in NGWSD now, with many of them using the day as a time for female student-athletes to reach into the community and show young girls that they can have positive role models in sports.
At Florida Southern College, members of the women's volleyball team hosted middle-school students, who were able to experience a day in the life of a female student-athlete.
Each girl was teamed up with a couple of Florida Southern volleyball players, who led them through their daily routines. They attended class, ate lunch in the school cafeteria, participated in a volleyball training session, observed a team physical-conditioning session and also received a campus tour. The student-athletes were happy to show the youngsters the benefits of sports -- the chance to experience life as a college student-athlete.
"We enjoyed the opportunity to be a role model for a day and give young girls hopes and dreams about playing sports in college," said Jaime Mills, a sophomore defensive specialist. "It was a perfect way for us as collegiate student-athletes to give back to our community and ignite enthusiasm in a few young female athletes."
Jill Stephens, Florida Southern head volleyball coach, hopes the team can participate in NGWSD again in the future.
"The NGWSD at Florida Southern proved to be a great experience for both our student-athletes and the five young ladies participating in the event. Our players took great pride in encouraging the young aspiring female student-athletes and gave them realistic views and goals to help them achieve their dreams of going to college and excelling both in a sport and in the classroom."
At Harvard University, more than 50 girls and young women from elementary schools in the Boston area filled the courts and pools at the school for its ninth annual celebration of NGWSD. The girls were treated to clinics to learn skills in water polo, basketball, volleyball and soccer, and the teachers were Harvard student-athletes.
The event is sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Foundation for Women's Athletics, and it gives girls an opportunity to see the opportunities offered in athletics.
"Some of these young women don't get out two blocks from their own neighborhoods," said Jennifer Weiss, the women's volleyball coach at Harvard. "This is an opportunity to see what's available, to see our athletes and the camaraderie of a team."
Added Christine Meiers, senior co-captain on the women's water polo team, "Since I love the sport (of water polo) so much, I like to expose it to young women as a confidence builder."
At Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, Pitzer Athletics and Pomona Partners, a Pomona College community-outreach program, joined forces in planning a fun and educational event this year.
About 60 students from Fremont Middle School in Pomona, California, participated in the activities. This year's theme for Pomona and Pitzer Colleges, in addition to the national theme, was: "Get Going... It's good for you."
Motts Thomas, director of community programs at Pomona College, noted that the Pomona Partners program exposes students to populations that have traditionally been underrepresented at the college.
"The intent is to encourage students to see they have choices," she told the Pomona College Magazine. "To show them that you do have a choice about what you want to do with the rest of your life."
The day began with group discussions about the physical and mental benefits of being physically active. Pomona-Pitzer student-athletes facilitated the discussions.
Then the student-athletes led the girls in clinics in soccer, basketball and softball, teaching the girls about proper body movements for throwing and catching.
"Girls in general just aren't as confident about sports," said Michelle Wilson, a Pomona-Pitzer sophomore. "It's good here, because the focus is just on them. They don't have to worry about what the boys think. It's also good for them to see college girls playing sports; it just gives them another reason maybe to go to college."
"That's what we hope," added Courtney Chavez, a senior member of the Pomona-Pitzer tennis team.
Indeed, that's what everyone organizing and promoting NGWSD hopes, that their activities will light a spark in a girl and start her on a well-lit path toward sports and education.
For more information about NGWSD, or to receive materials to participate next year, visit National Girls and Women in Sports Day Central at www.NGWSDCentral.com or contact one of the five sponsoring organizations.
Next year's theme for NGWSD will be "Succeed in Sports, Lead in Life," and the official day of celebration will be February 5.
10 Months Ahead
Establish a planning committee. Consider including representatives from other organizations. Plan to meet several times during the year.
Set a date. Be flexible. NGWSD will be celebrated on a Wednesday, but Saturday events have higher participation rates.
Reserve a site. Instead of paying a flat fee, try bartering. Market your event as a way for universities to recruit students; schools can provide money, location and meals.
Plan a budget. Remember all expenses, awards, printing, gifts, postage, travel, calligraphy, T-shirts, etc. Don't forget the costs of staff and publicity.
Six Months Ahead
Establish the awards you will give and the deadline for nominations.
Choose your speaker. Try to get a speaker who is connected to the organization. Ideally you will not need to pay your speaker.
Mail nomination forms and invitations. Include a deadline on your nomination form and state clearly that nominees received before the deadline will be in the program.
Consider mailing to: principals, athletics directors, teachers and coaches * parks and recreation departments * Girl Scouts Councils * Girls Incorporated * State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AHPERD) * community action programs for Women's Sports Foundation * YWCAs * corporate fitness programs * Senior Games, State Games Sports coordinators and Special Olympics * Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Health members.
Two Months Ahead
Prepare awards. Order trophies and other award items. Try to have a certificate for every nominee.
Send a second mailing to people who are attending. Include an agenda, a map and any other materials (e.g., admission tickets) attendees will need.
Secure a ceremony emcee. Do this at least a month and a half in advance. Offer the host institution the opportunity to choose this individual.
Register your event at www.NGWSDCentral.com.
The Week Before
Make nametags for everyone and gather items such as T-shirts, pins, banners, tape, pens and extra nametags that will be needed on site.
Arrive on site at least two and a half hours early to set up. When people arrive, have them pick up their nametags and registration materials (T-shirts, programs, goody bags, etc). You may want to host a short reception before the event to allow attendees to meet one another.
After the Event
Mail certificates and other items to people unable to attend.
Hold a "debriefing" meeting to evaluate this event and plan for the next year.