FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The first National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) event hosted by the Northern Arizona University athletics department was a hit with the Flagstaff community on Saturday, February 23. More than 50 local elementary and junior high school girls participated in the event held at the Rolle Activity Center on the NAU campus and culminated in their participation in a halftime ceremony at the women’s basketball game.
Lumberjack coaches and student-athletes held skill sessions in exercise, golf, soccer and volleyball, giving the girls different experiences while having the opportunity to interact with the female student-athletes and coaches that represent NAU on the Lumberjack squads. Members of the women’s golf, soccer, swimming and diving, track and field and volleyball teams participated.
Volleyball player Janae Vander Ploeg, who hails from Colorado Springs, Colo., valued the experience to mentor the girls.
“I did not (have the same opportunity) when I was younger and I wish I did,” said Vander Ploeg. “This is huge for young girls to see what college athletes do and learn to play different sports. It gives them the opportunity to do what they want to, choose what they want to do and have fun with it. I was really glad we got to be part of it today.”
Vander Ploeg enjoyed seeing the effort of the participants.
“It was great watching the girls try their hardest and see that they were so excited to keep learning,” said Vander Ploeg. “If they were not getting it right away, they were getting better by the end in the short amount of time they had.”
Head Soccer Coach Andre Luciano directed one of the sessions with the help of his entire roster.
“The highlight was seeing our student-athletes interact with these girls and giving them some inspiration and motivation to continue with athletics,” said Luciano.
Luciano sees the impact the student-athletes can have on the impressionable girls in the community from their play on the field to their dedication in the classroom.
“The most important thing is to give the young girls in this community a positive image in terms of what they can be,” said Luciano. “Athletics gives them the opportunity to become confident. When you are confident it empowers you do to anything that you want. We have great role models here and I think they enjoyed this opportunity.”
Following the skill sessions, the participants joined the Lumberjacks coaches and student-athletes for a presentation by Sara Pinson, a registered dietician for the Flagstaff Fit Kids of Arizona.
Pinson showcased a powerful display featuring the amounts of sugar in every day juices and soda that are widely consumed.
“It is one thing for me to tell them the grams of sugar but the visual represents what they are putting in their body,” said Pinson. “Every four grams of sugar on a label equals a teaspoon of sugar. Adding that up over a day, a week, a month or a year and you can see what they are putting in their body.”
In addition to promoting the benefits of playing sports, the goal for the event was to promote healthy eating habits. All the participants were provided healthy snacks and sandwiches donated for the event by New Frontiers, Subway and Sam’s Club.
“It is very important for kids to understand nutrition because it fuels everything about them, as do the drinks,” said Pinson. “They are being easily persuaded by their friends and what is on television. It is important we are giving them the healthy messages.”
Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lisa Campos joined the Lumberjack student-athletes for an autograph session following the women’s basketball game at the Walkup Skydome Saturday night.
NGWSD is celebrated in all 50 states with community-based events, award ceremonies, and activities honoring the achievements and encouraging participation of girls and women in sports.
NGWSD began in 1987 as a day to remember Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman for her athletic achievements and her work to assure equality for women's sports. Hyman died of Marfan's Syndrome in 1986 while competing in a volleyball tournament in Japan. Since that time, NGWSD has evolved into a day to acknowledge the past and recognize current sports achievements, the positive influence of sports participation, and the continuing struggle for equality and access for women in sports.
NAU plans on NGWSD being an annual event as part of the community outreach efforts of the athletics department across Flagstaff and northern Arizona.