#YesAllWomen in Sports

#YesAllWomen in Sports

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a sports journalist.

There might have been a very brief stint in kindergarten where Friendly’s waitress was discussed as an option, but that melted away as quickly as a Cone Head sundae.

With the exception of kindergarten, there was no hesitation or question; I was going to be a sports journalist. I was going to do anything to get there, but there were going to be some rough moments.

I remember being the only girl watching the game with the boys. I remember the isolation of being the only woman on a beat. I remember the skeptical looks, the odd questions, and the doubtful comments.

But by far, the absolute worst part of all was, and still is, The Quiz.

Any woman that works in sports journalism will tell you that at some point in her life, she has been subjected to a quiz by someone who thinks they know more about sports than she does. It could be someone close to them, like a friend or family member, or someone that she’s just met, like a guy in a bar, your barista or mechanic.

The quiz normally starts with little questions with an air of superiority and condescension, normally starting with “WELL” and ending with “Huh?!” (Real-life example-WELL, What is Utah’s mascot, huh?!)

As a woman, you know that a man would never be subjected to this in a serious context. You are acutely aware that this is not a joke. There is an expectation that you must answer the basic, idiotic questions to show your knowledge and that is the most frustrating thing of all.

If someone tells you they’re an accountant, you don’t ask them to debit an account. If someone tells you they’re a history teacher, you don’t demand they list all the presidents. You don’t make them prove that they are knowledgeable in their field. You take their word for it.

As a society, we still have a long way to go with how we see women in sports, both on and off the floor, but we have made tremendous progress. For all of The Quizzes, there are genuine questions and supporters.

I once asked my mom if she ever tried to convince me to pursue another career. She started to laugh. “Even if I wanted to, I never had a chance. You decided very early that this was what you were going to do. You were constantly going to games with your dad, so I just tried to help in whatever way I could.”

Her encouragement made me focus on the positive aspects of what I do.

For me, work is debating whether or not Terrell Owens should be in the Hall of Fame or covering a March Madness game. It’s always something new.

There’s enough competition in sports, so let’s stop the quizzes and start the support.

A sport for women, created by women

A sport for women, created by women

By Janell Cook, executive director of the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA), and Mary Ann Powers, head coach of acrobatics & tumbling at Quinnipiac University

Acrobatics & tumbling is the first sport in a century that was created for women by women. The interests and abilities of young women were primary to cementing a competitive and fan-friendly format for this sport. And fan-friendly it is, as can be witnessed by the game-day attendance at the 17 current universities supporting the sport. 

As one ticket-office person described, “I am not surprised by the enthusiasm of the little girls and family members who come to watch these women in action. However, what is extraordinary is the ‘ordinary’ sports fan who arrives curious, but leaves inspired by the scope of the landscape these pioneers have built”. 

The sport is fun to watch. As one "traditional" college athlete stated: “These women do skills that no one else on our campus can begin to imagine”. 

The pioneers of acrobatics & tumbling weren't afraid to dream big. When the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association  (NCATA) was formed, the mission was simple -- provide opportunities for more young women to compete at the collegiate level.  Despite over five million girls competing in gymnastics (and another three million who utilize gymnastics skill sets in the activity of cheerleading), the opportunities for varsity collegiate competition are limited to approximately 1,600 positions available on women’s collegiate (artistic) gymnastics rosters.  Simply put, a new and safe haven supported by athletic training, academic assistance, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, scholarships, and proper budgets would be nailed into once-barren walls.

Discussion began.  How could the skill sets of acrobatics and tumbling translate to a competitive sport in the collegiate athletic environment?  Six of the original NCATA coaches examined existing NCAA competition formats in sports like gymnastics, track and field, and basketball as they collaborated to create an entirely new format in which teams would compete head to head.  They researched and worked with administrators to ensure the sport met the provisions laid out in Title IX to be considered a varsity sport on college campuses. They reviewed NCAA policies to form comparable rules for competition season, training schedule, recruiting and eligibility.

Thus a new sport was created and it was time to put the roof on the structure. Acrobatics & tumbling and its governing body, the NCATA, were officially founded in 2010.  The sport became sanctioned and named a discipline of USA Gymnastics within three years of its formation. In just seven years, Acrobatics & Tumbling has provided over 500 young women the life changing experience of competing as a varsity student-athlete.  

“By my senior year of college, after a lifetime of arguing with individuals who refused to admit I was an athlete, my university stood behind me and said, ‘Yes you are’. Now, I will be the first to agree with you if you are saying that standing on the sidelines in a skirt, with pom-poms, cheering on another team is not a sport, but for the majority of my teammates over the years, this was just something we had to do in order to do what we really wanted; to compete. When Quinnipiac University helped create the female collegiate sport ‘Acrobatics & Tumbling’, I could not have been happier. Don’t get me wrong, I loved supporting my fellow athletes, but preferred to do it as a fan in the stands. We were given a strength-and-conditioning coach who went above and beyond to learn and understand our sport and where each team member would need to improve. Our athletic trainers were on hand at every practice, attending to any injuries and making sure we were only pushing our bodies to the extent that they could handle at that time. The change had begun, and I could not have been more proud to be a part of it.”
-- Alicia Chouinard, Quinnipiac University acrobatics & tumbling alumni and Senior Producer/Editor at CSN New England

There's no denying the impact of the student-athlete experience in the lives of young women. In a 2014 survey of 400 female executives, more than 50 percent played collegiate athletics and an astounding 97 percent competed in sport at some point in their lives.  The experience is transformative, providing the structure and opportunities for young women to develop the confidence, skills and proficiency to be highly successful in their careers after their collegiate days are over.

What remains remarkable is that the tenacity displayed by administration, coaches and athletes has grown this sport without yet attaining NCAA emerging-sport status. Seventeen colleges and universities currently sponsor acrobatics & tumbling as a varsity sport on their campus. This year, the ECAC announced the first-ever Acrobatics and Tumbling League as a conference sport.  And this summer, the NCATA will submit a proposal to the NCAA for emerging-sport status, its goal from the very beginning.

Women are still leading the way with acrobatics & tumbling.  At all seventeen NCATA member schools, a woman is the head coach.  Five of the six original coaches remain, sharing the history with the younger ranks.  Many are former student-athletes, applying their personal experience to the mentorship and instruction of their own team.  While much has been accomplished, this inspired group of women is just getting started providing a place to call home.

Token Tomboy

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Token Tomboy

I must admit: I used to proudly call myself a tomboy. I never really knew the proper definition, but I decided the word defined me since I enjoyed activities that the rest of the world didn’t think were “suitable for girls.” 

Oh well.

I would sometimes joke about being my dad’s first son because before my two brothers were born my Dad and I did everything together. I would help him shovel snow, fix things around the house; I even learned how to change oil and tires at a young age. (Ironically enough, I have a car now and don’t remember how to do any of it.) 

And how could I forget my two childhood best friends, both of whom were boys? My mom loves to tell the story about how once she was babysitting another kid from the neighborhood and expected us all to play nice. She came to check in on us in the play room and realized that the fourth kid was missing. Her frantic search would lead her to find the poor guy under the upside bin that I has been quietly sitting on, smirking.

Being the “token tomboy” would become a common theme in my life. When I was 8 years old, my hometown of Orange, N.J., couldn’t find enough girls to play T-ball. So it was decided that I’d just have to play with the boys instead.

Everything about that season is a blur but I distinctly remember the mothers of my teammates cheering louder for me than they did for their own sons. I was that cute little girl who kept hitting the T instead of that actual ball (for the record, my dad says we were all equally terrible), but it was okay. I stepped up the plate every time, proud to be the only girl on that team. For that reason, those moms were proud of me as well. 

My love for sports has not waned as I have matured into a young adult. While girls my age had started experimenting with makeup, my dad and I would be playing 2-on-2 with whoever was at the park that day. Basketball was how he and I bonded, and I loved it.

Tomboy. 

In retrospect, society has defined a lot of my childhood activities as “boyish by nature.” Nevertheless, my upbringing prepared me for the realities of the world I live in. Whether it was ballet or basketball, I developed into a well-rounded individual because my parents didn’t allow society’s standards define what their daughter could do.

At Boston College I found my sports journalism class to be a microcosm of the world that would lie ahead. In this case, two women floating amongst a sea of men. But I was ready. I was used to being the only girl by now and I knew I was just as prepared as my male counterparts. 

Throughout the years I've had a countless number of men ask me a variety of questions, whether they be normal or strange. My answers to these pop quizzes would apparently determine if I’m qualified to ever talk about “sports,” a course I’ve studied my entire life.

“Okay, so you think you know sports? Well answer this: What are the names of Tom Brady’s three dogs?”

Wait, what? 

As a woman, my credibility is half that of a man in my field. I'm expected to know ten times more, and receive ten times less the amount of respect.

Interesting.

The truth is, being in sports media is like T-ball all over again. Whether I’m in a team locker room or at our CSN studios I continue to find myself being one of the few women in this continuously growing field. Most of my teammates are males, but we all have one goal in mind: To share our knowledge/love of sports with others. 

I will continue to step up to the plate and represent for all the girls who will come behind me until our teams are as balanced as they should be.

I'm no longer a tomboy, just a woman whose experiences have led to one conclusion:

Women can play, talk, report, analyze, manage, coach and love sports and we can do it just as well as any man. 

And guess what? 

There’s nothing abnormal about that.

P.S. No, I will not answer that dumb question about Tom Brady’s dogs. Go look it up yourself.