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Sprinting Towards Gender Equality in Sports

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Feb. 5 marked the 34th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, held in the light of inspiring young females to be active and realize their potential power and abilities as both athletes and human beings. 

The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) was founded in 1974 by tennis player Billie Jean King in the hopes of building and growing female athletic participation. National Girls and Women in Sports Day was first created by the organization in 1987, acknowledging female achievements in sports and continuing to advocate for equality in all areas. 

Supporting the goals of WSF, Drake University is among the many schools that celebrate this national day, hosting its third annual clinic inside the Shivers Basketball Practice Facility. Collaborating with the female sports teams at Drake, the athletics program put on a free clinic for young girls from kindergarten to 8th grade in the Des Moines community. 

“We have seen tremendous strides in girls’ and women’s sports in the 34 years since NGWSD began, and the potential to do more and have an even greater impact is palpable,” CEO Deborah Antoine said in a previous interview with WSF Athlete Ambassadors. “What better time than the start of a new decade to keep equity in sport front and center. Sports provides lifelong benefits – health, mastery, leadership, confidence – all tremendously vital skills and attributes. As the ally, advocate and catalyst for girls and women in sports, the Women’s Sports Foundation is driven and determined to continue leading her forward – in sport and in life.”

“I think this day is very empowering,” Drake student Geeya Patel said. “Even today, sports tend to revolve around men, but women can be just as powerful and physically fit. I feel like the day is important because it brings recognition that’s needed. Yes, girls can do arts or crafts, but they can play basketball too if they want.”

Mike Mestdagh, father of young Allie Mestdagh, is one of the hundreds of parents who attended the clinic at Drake. 

“I brought my daughter to the clinic for a couple of reasons,” Mestdagh said. “For one, she’s really young and doesn’t know what she wants to do yet, so it was a great event to have many different sessions that she could go to and learn from the people that actually play the sport. Secondly, sports bring a team camaraderie and the invaluable lessons of competition and growing up, which I think are really important for her.”

Allie Mestdaugh was among 400 participants, who engaged in sports activities, featuring cheerleading, volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf, rowing, track, and basketball. With a total of 8 stations, the kids rotated through each sport, having the opportunity to meet new friends, interact with the Drake athletes, and most importantly, just have fun and be active. Many families and their daughters stayed to support Drake women’s basketball after the clinic as well. 

“I think Drake has done an excellent job with the women’s basketball program and shed a lot of light on women’s sports, with how well they’ve done and their winning streak,” Mestdagh said. “I also bring my son to the Drake golf camp. They have women’s golf coaches there and women’s golf players, so you get to see women playing even from my son’s point of view. It’s great to see that women are doing these sports so well here.”

The athletes who participated in the clinic not only enjoyed the bountiful energy of the young girls and their interests in sports, but many players expressed their awe towards the girls’ motivation and drive.

“The clinic was great,” Drake volleyball player Haylee Kent said. “It was honestly very inspiring that so many girls came out. I feel that many girls are being pushed out of sports nowadays, but seeing them at such a young age come out and want to try different sports that our college offers was truly a blessing. Women in sports have come a long way but the fight is not over yet for equality and equity. I think this clinic was a great step for recognition.”

Senior Woman Administrator Megan Franklin, who works with the Title IX program at Drake, is working to ensure equity and equality throughout the university athletic programs. 

According to the United States Department of Justice, Title IX states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

“This law impacts athletics because there must be equitable access to sport participation coupled with the investment in benefits of participation in said sport program as that of the majority gender,” Franklin said. 

While Franklin believes the university has done a great job to promote women in sports so far, she knows there is still more to be done. 

“We will continue to be mindful of Title IX compliance as we consider the key areas of sport programs – facilities, coaching staff sizes, roster sizes, operations budget, scholarship assignment, travel budgets, recruiting budgets,” Franklin said. “A regular external audit program with action items derived from the report means we can continue to serve the Drake students in compliance with Title IX.”

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