Photo Credit: Mackenzie Gerry
The Brock Women in Sports Group is providing a platform for women in sports to talk about their experiences, discuss relevant topics and promote positive change.
The group is made up of coaches, trainers, student-athletes and staff within Brock Sports. Forming a group like this has been something that Varsity Athletic Trainer Kelsey Marshall has been thinking about doing for a while. The idea really started to take shape at the beginning of 2020, after Marshall attended a women in sports conference at York University and learned about groups dedicated to women in sports at other universities.
She first spoke with Associate Athletic Director Emily Allan about getting a group started at Brock. Then, she sent an email to all female members of the staff at Brock Sports.
“I said you can be involved as much or as little as you want, you don’t have to come to every meeting,” said Marshall.
As members of staff got involved, they formed a committee. The Women in Sports committee consists of Marshall and Allan, Athletic Therapist Karen Millar, Head Coach for golf and cheerleading Tara Savoie, Lead Sport Performance Coach Vicki Benuds, rowing Assistant Coach Mary Rao, women’s swimming Assistant Coach Victoria Culp, women’s hockey Head Coach Margot Page and Special Events Coordinator Erica Wortley.
“It was around the time of International Women’s Day and it just so happened to coincide with our women’s sports teams doing really well in the playoffs so that was amazing,” said Marshall.
It’s not just Brock Sports staff who are involved in the group. The athlete committee is made up of a number of female Brock student athletes, most of whom started getting involved at the beginning of this semester. For the first meeting, which took place on Microsoft Teams, the athlete committee took on a number of responsibilities, including reaching out to speakers, taking notes, monitoring the chat and helping to facilitate discussion.
“I wanted to get involved with this because I’ve been a woman in sport since before I can even remember,” said Sally Bellevue, a Varsity cheerleader at Brock.
Bellevue had started off as a gymnast and now coaches gymnastics.
Kristin Gallant, a member of the women’s basketball team, got involved fairly recently after members of the committee reached out to her.
“I think they were aiming to get women leaders from every sports team at Brock,” said Gallant.
Gallant has been playing sports for her entire life. While she says that things have definitely gotten better in recent years, there is still a long way to go.
“Obviously I went through some challenges being a female in sport, especially on co-ed teams like when I did track and field. I’m not saying I’ve gone through it and been disrespected but I’ve definitely witnessed inequality between males and females,” said Gallant.
Here at Brock, Gallant noticed some of the differences in the ways people turn out for men’s teams versus the ways they turn out for women’s teams.
“Women’s teams that are really good still don’t get as many fans as the men’s teams even if the women’s team was better than the men’s,” said Gallant.
There were more fans in the stands during the 2019-20 season though, as Gallant and her teammates won a provincial title and a silver medal at the U Sports national championships.
“I guess we were lucky in that sense, we were good and people wanted to come out and see us. Definitely in my first couple of years though, it was always like the men’s team is the ‘superior’ team and even this year when things were more equal, you knew that there were still people who would respect the men’s team more than the women’s,” said Gallant.
It’s not just issues of equality that the Women in Sports Group wants to address.
“We did a survey of our female student athlete population and asked them what kind of things they’d want to talk about. The first meeting was about building positive team culture, body image, confidence and leadership and also looking outside of sport, so building yourself outside of sport,” said Marshall.
“Equality of men and women aside, I think women have their own issues in sports, not relating to men at all,” said Gallant. “I want to get the point across to all women, in sport and outside of sport to improve confidence, competence and yourself as a person overall.”
The first meeting of the group was in October with Shannon Kerwin, an Associate Professor in Sport Management and Chris Critelli a former athlete, coach and athletic director.
“[Dr. Kerwin] talked more about her research and Chris talked about her experience as a coach, athlete and athletic director. Being able to have those people share their experiences with us was really eye opening as they are very successful in their fields,” said Bellevue.
The group connects many women from many different teams and professions within Brock Sports. Bellevue in particular noted that it was eye-opening to be able to hear about what her coach, Savoie, does outside of cheerleading as a golf coach.
“And then hearing from experiences of hockey players and athletic trainers and all the other people on the committee, it’s been really cool because you can see all different perspectives and how women are interacting in sport and stuff like that,” said Bellevue.
“I think it’s exciting to be involved in a group where everyone has the same goal, where we all went through the same kinds of things growing up in sports so these discussions are very interesting. It’s very motivating,” said Gallant.
That’s exactly what Marshall is going for.
“I want people to recognize the value of female leadership in sports and in life in general,” said Marshall.
The group also became a way for female athletes and staff members to stay involved and connected, as the seasons are cancelled and put on hold across the country. For Bellevue, this will be the longest break that she’s taken from her sport.
“It’s great to be able to connect with others who also might be having those same experiences, living in a different world with COVID-19, we’re all living with that so being able to come together as women in sports, talking lived experiences and hearing from other people is really great motivation right now and it’s inspiring to talk about, especially with everything else that’s going on in the world,” said Bellevue.
The group plans to meet once a month, excluding exam season. Each meeting will focus on a different topic that is relevant to its members as women in sports. They want to create positive change in both the community and also within themselves.
“I think just having this group in the first place is a great positive change, because you’re going to be able to be surrounded by so many strong and inspiring women. Getting to hear their stories and about them as well, being able to hear more about them is great and their journeys and trying to see yourself in them is amazing,” said Bellevue.
Any female athletes and female members of Brock Sports staff are encouraged to keep an eye out for the date and time of the next meeting which will take place on Microsoft Teams.