Norwich Observes National Girls and Women in Sports Day

by Diana Weggler, February 2005

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Clinging for dear life to the sheer rock face, Julie Hatch looked past her right arm and checked her foothold. Poised at the apex of a ninety-degree overhang, the determined nine-year-old had only half a dozen feet to go before she reached the summit. On the ground far beneath her, an excited group of onlookers offered words of encouragement.

"You can do it Julia! You're almost there Julia!"

Separated from her mother by a thirty-foot sheer vertical drop, the Northfield third-grader showed no signs of fear. Pursing her lips with renewed resolve, she reached up for the next handhold and inched herself incrementally closer to her goal.

Julia's climb was made possible by the 19th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD). Established by Congress in 1987 to celebrate the achievements of girls and women in sports, NGWSD is celebrated in all 50 states with community-based events, award ceremonies and other activities.

At Norwich University, in honor of the occasion, a variety of sports-related activities and displays were offered to the public free of charge. In all, more than fifty local girls and women took advantage of the opportunity to participate for both fun and education.

"This is the 4th year that Norwich has taken part in this celebration," said Physical Education Professor Geoff Davison, organizer of the event. "As in the past, we offered sports clinics and exhibits of student work devoted to raising public awareness of the achievements of women in sport," said Davison.

In the gymnasium in Andrews Hall, coaches and players of the NU Lady Cadets Basketball team put on a basketball clinic for 22 women and girls from the surrounding area.

"It was an honor to host our basketball clinic for the Northfield community in honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day," said Lady Cadet's basketball coach Steve Lanpher. "We are always looking to communicate and work with local children. I feel it was a worthwhile and wonderful experience both for our program and for all the children who attended,"Lanpher added.

While basketball was going on in Andrews, Connie Van Arnam of Northfield and her daughter, Elena, joined 30 other girls and women in a rock-climbing activity in Shapiro Field House, supervised by female Cadets and staff of the NU Mountain Cold Weather Unit. Van Arnam, who assisted with the apparatus that supports climbers as they ascend and descend, observed how the exercise helped many of the girls increase their level of self-confidence.

"I saw some girls stretching their comfort zone," said Van Arnam. "There was an element of learning to trust the equipment." Van Arnam sees parallels between climbing and life.

"When they came down off the wall, they felt as though they had accomplished a feat by having faced an unknown challenge."

"Introducing girls to activities such as rock climbing and basketball encourages them to take risks, challenge themselves athletically, and adopt a healthy lifestyle," agreed Davison.

Davison feels that another important objective of the event is that of providing participants with positive female role models.

"If the girls can somehow connect with a female coach, athlete or instructor and maybe draw encouragement or even inspiration from the achievements of others, then maybe they will become committed to lifelong activity and involvement in sport and recreation," Davison said.

The idea for an annual day of recognition for female athletes was first inspired by the heroic legacy of Flo Hyman, a US Olympic volleyball player who died of Marfan's Syndrome while competing in a tournament in Japan. Originally conceived as a way to celebrate Flo's life and work, the day has evolved over the years into a celebration of the past accomplishments, current achievements and present day struggle for equality in women's sports and athletics.

"All the girls and women I talked to today had a great time and challenged themselves to get better in basketball or climbing,"said Davison. "Next year, we will expand the number of activities available. Who knows, we may introduce a girl to an activity that she sticks with for a lifetime."

"Elena is already talking about doing it again," said her mother, Connie, "and I fully support her!"

At the conclusion of the afternoon's activities, each girl was presented with an official certificate recognizing her participation in the celebration. NGWSD is sponsored by five prominent national organizations: Girls Incorporated, Girl Scouts of the USA, National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, the Women's Sports Foundation, and the YWCA of the U.S.A.

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Refreshments for the participants were provided courtesy of Dasani and the Coca-Cola Company.

For more information, contact Geoff Davison at gdavison@norwich.edu.