South Carolina Athletics celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day with a special networking dinner for Gamecock female student-athletes and staff Wednesday night in The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“The purpose is to empower our young ladies to talk about sports and the difference it has made in their lives,” said Maria Hickman, Executive Associate Athletics Director and Chief Diversity Officer. “It highlights the fifty years of Title IX, but it also challenges our young ladies not only get out of their comfort zones, but to also help that next generation and group of young ladies coming up for the next fifty years.”
In addition to female student-athletes, female staff from all facets of the Athletics Department took part in the event, including coaches, administrators, athletic trainers, administrative assistants, academic advisors, and compliance and ticket office personnel, among others.
“I want the student-athletes to see the different avenues that are out there for working in sports,” said Angie Ludwig, Assistant A.D. for Compliance, who has worked in college athletics for ten years. “There is so much that goes into making it all work, so I want them to see that there are other paths (in athletics) other than coaching. Coaching may not be their thing, but there are avenues that play more to their strengths.”
“This is a great event to celebrate our student-athletes and to get staff together who may not have relationships with our student-athletes,” said athletic trainer Jenn Herod. “There are more opportunities for women now. You look around in the NFL and the NBA, and you see female athletic trainers there. (Kansas City Chiefs quarterback) Patrick Mahomes shouted out their female athletic trainer who helped him out with his ankle rehab. The sky is the limit, You just have to put yourself out there. We can do the same jobs.”
The attendees took part in round table discussions about how sports have impacted their lives and challenges each has faced in being females working in sports as well as challenges that still exist. Later there was an open discussion among the entire group about those round table talks with a representative from each table outlining their conversations.
“We talked about whether we felt supported as female student-athletes at USC, and we actually all said yes.” said senior tennis student-athlete Ayana Akli. “The reason we felt supported is because we have people like (Deputy Athletics Director) Judy (Van Horn) and our compliance (assistant director of compliance services) Grace (Smith Phillips), who always make it known that they’re there. We know that we have someone we can come and talk to. Coaches and other people let us know that we have an open space, like a safe space, to come and talk to them.”
“Equality is more than just checking a box.”
Senior swimmer Hannah Barton noted that her table echoed the sentiment of female student-athletes feeling well-supported at USC, but there are also areas to do more.
“Something we’d like to see for the future is having more education for coaches in how to talk to female athletes, specifically about body image,” Barton said. “That can have a positive impact on female student-athletes and their mental health. We also talked about whenever you are going into a male dominated field in a career, what are ways to assert yourself as a person and as a woman.”
“Equality is more than just checking a box,” said junior soccer student-athlete Catherine Barry as her group discussed encouraging fellow student-athletes to use their platform in a positive way. “There are barriers still in place (for women in sports). We need to find more ways to get fans more engaged so girls can have opportunities to look up to strong and powerful females.”
“We talked about how there is such a rise of strong female coaches now,” said beach volleyball freshman Sadie Nelson. “That’s such a good thing to have those coaches who can advocate for us. At the same time, on beach volleyball, we have two male coaches, and I love that dynamic because we can advocate for each other.”
“In my opinion, I think that women’s sports here could be even greater,” said volleyball sophomore Oby Anadi. “We could be supported even more than we are right now. Something that (a fellow student-athlete) said was that you can be grateful and not satisfied. Also, Aniyah (Black from softball team) brought up was that when she was transferring and figuring out where her next home was going to be, someone told her to go where she was needed. I think for us, we always need to be in spaces where we are needed. We have two male coaches on our team, and they’re great coaches, but we need that female representation so we can feel like you really understand me.”
In the past week, the volleyball team hired Brittany Farrell as an assistant coach.
This is the first year of the event at South Carolina, but Hickman said they plan to make it an annual event.
National Girls and Women in Sports Day pays tribute to the achievements of females in sports and celebrates the role of sports to help unlock the opportunity and potential for women. The first National Women in Sports Day was declared in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan. The event also recognizes the progress made by the Title IX amendment, which was passed in 1972.