Empowering Girls and Women in Sports

by Jessica Derr on February 12, 2018

In my mind, Arcadia’s dome always evokes memories of blistering cold days. Of practices and conditioning workouts before the sun rises. Of dragging sleds and running sprints (74 to be exact) until tears came to my eyes. Of harsh lights and dry air. Don’t get me wrong: The dome was built for the winter months. Still, there’s nothing like playing lacrosse with the breeze on your face, the sun on your skin, and an open sky overhead.

But on a Saturday afternoon in late January, playing under the dome was the only place to be. There, a hoard of little girls clustered and clamored, clad in colorful sneakers and flashy headbands. Unable to keep still, they bounded and swayed in place, enthralled by the college students who instructed them, looking up to them with reverence, as children tend to do to authority figures that aren’t their parents. Tentatively, the girls reached for golf clubs and lacrosse sticks, perhaps for the first time. But with a little encouragement from their college instructors, the girls were beaming within minutes, impressed by abilities they did not even know they possessed.

For this was no ordinary day in the dome.  It was the 33rd annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, a celebration organized by Arcadia’s Athletic Department that encourages girls to find empowerment in sport. Girls aged 6 to 12 were invited for a free day of activity in which Arcadia student-athletes led them through stations correlating to different sports drills. The girls got to shoot field hockey balls at the Knight mascot, go through batting practice with the baseball and softball teams, play keep-away with Arcadia’s soccer teams, and much more. Rotating through the different sports, the girls demonstrated enthusiasm and energy that left me smiling. They reminded me of myself as a little kid, wading into athletics for the first time.

Ever since I can recall, I’ve played sports. In the fall, I found myself dribbling a soccer ball beneath the changing foliage. I fended off the brunt of winter in basketball gyms. Come spring, a lacrosse stick was never far from hand. Day-long swim meets and the perpetual smell of chlorine punctuated my summers. A lifestyle without rushing from one practice to the next, without having weekends devoured by games or tournaments,was unfathomable. After all, to be a Derr was almost synonymous to being an athlete in our hometown. My father and his siblings, as well as my many cousins, all led lives that revolved around athletics. Many of them even went on to continue their respective sports at competitive Division 1 and 2 colleges.

But when you’ve been doing something since you were in kindergarten and when it becomes nearly embedded in your identity, it’s hard not to harbor some resentment toward it and lose the magic you had when you first started. Sometimes I feel like I missed out on opportunities because I could not afford to miss practice or tournaments. Sometimes I feel like my years of hard work are not worth the damage I am doing to my body, beating it down into a state not befitting of its 19 years.

In times like that, I have to remind myself that much of the good I’ve gleaned from sports tends to outweigh the bad and that I am a better person for having done them. My involvement in athletics has caused me to care about maintaining my body, manage my time carefully, and meet new, interesting people whose paths I may have never crossed otherwise. Perhaps most importantly, sports have forced me out of my geeky, introverted shell, making me a more confident, well-rounded human being.

So seeing those girls delight in trying new sports and showing skills they never knew, as cheesy as it sounds, warmed my heart. We still live in a society where young women are instructed to make themselves small, silent. They are told to cross their legs, shut their mouths, but not to forget to smile– it’s better to be seen than heard. Girls may be discouraged from lacing up their cleats or picking up a lacrosse stick because shouting, sweating, and developing muscle is far too boyish for what should be a pretty porcelain doll. We have come a long way in girls’ inclusion in sports, but we still must show girls that they belong on the field, court, and track as much as any of their male counterparts. To deny them of such involvement would be to deny them any and all of the benefits and life lessons one can get from years spent on a team, playing a sport.

Through sport, I learned it’s okay for a girl to be assertive, strong, and confident. I only hope that through events such as National Women and Girls in Sports Day,  more and more girls can continue to learn this, too.