Mountain View Voice

News - April 1, 2011

Local girls embrace a sporting life

Free after-school program teaches teamwork, engenders confidence

by Nick Veronin

As the program wound down for the day, the BAWSI program leaders led the group of about 80 girls in a chant. It began with all the girls crouching on the floor whispering and culminated in the whole group standing on their tip-toes shouting as loud as they could: "Oh! I feel good! Oh! I knew I would!"

The Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative, or BAWSI, is a non-profit organization that provides free extra curricular athletic activities to young girls in schools around the Bay Area. The program enrolled its 10,000th participant March 25 at Castro Elementary in Mountain View.

It was a significant milestone for BAWSI, according to co-founder Brandi Chastain, who said only 11 girls signed up for the program's inaugural semester in 2005.

"This is like the Guinness Book of World Records for us," said Chastain, who has played soccer for both the U.S. Olympic and Women's World Cup teams. "We had no idea it would turn into 10,000 so quickly."

BAWSI, pronounced "bossy," focuses on sports and athletic activities for girls in Title I schools, because, according to co-founder Marlene Bjornsrud, they represent a group that faces significant challenges and stands to gain much from the experience.

Ranging from second-graders to fifth-graders, "BAWSI girls" learn about respect, responsibility and teamwork at their once-a-week after-school meetings, which are led by female athletes — many of whom are volunteers from local high schools and colleges.

On the day BAWSI enrolled its 10,000th member, girls from the St. Francis varsity girls' lacrosse team guided the girls through exercises, which included an ice-breaking "walk like an Egyptian" relay race and the more academic practice of defining the word of the day — which was "team" — in their BAWSI journals.

"I think it's really good for the young girls to get them moving, get them motivated and get them active," said Beth Ruder, a sophomore on the St. Francis lacrosse team.

Besides putting her in situations where she has made many friends, Ruder said that sports have played an important role in her life. "It's made me confident in myself and taught me how to work with other people."

After the relay race and a discussion about what the word of the day meant, the 10,000th BAWSI girl was named.

Jocelyn Rosapena, a third-grader from Castro School seemed shy at first, but quickly responded to Chastain and Bjornsrud's calls for her to join them at the front of the multi-purpose room.

"I love BAWSI girls," she said into the microphone.

Later, Jocelyn said that she was happy to have been No. 10,000. "It's very important to me. I'm going to tell my parents and they will be very proud of me."

Chastain and Bjornsrud said they hope that BAWSI girls, like Jocelyn, will gain confidence and self awareness that will ultimately transfer to the classroom and provide a foundation for the girls to make positive choices in their lives as they get older.

Schools that receive Title I funding from the federal government are generally located in low-income neighborhoods and have a student body with many children from poor families. Two Mountain View elementary schools receive Title I funds — Castro and Landels.

In these neighborhoods the cost of sending children to youth sports programs, such as Little League or Pop Warner football, often prove prohibitive to parents, and if there is money it is regularly devoted to the boys in a family, for cultural and societal reasons, Bjornsrud said. As a result, many girls in these areas grow up without sports.

"We're trying to fill the gap for those girls that might be in that tough situation," Bjornsrud said, in an effort to help combat the "significant challenges" and hard choices they will have to face down the road. And while she acknowledges that sports aren't a panacea, "every bit of research that is out there says it makes a significant difference."

Judy Crates, principal of Castro, said that in its three years at her school BAWSI has made a positive impact on the girls who participate in the program.

"Definitely, we are getting results," Crates said, "It really helps the girls clarify their thinking about the decisions they make. They have an identity and they're very proud of being a BAWSI girl."

Crates said the non-academic nature of the activities means that BAWSI is not equated with school — it's something fun that the girls look forward to doing after school. However, while they are letting loose they are also learning, Crates said.

They are learning leadership skills, they are exercising, they are developing healthy body images and learning to interact with other age groups — and they are being led by women athletes, who serve as role models and as proof positive that many of the atavistic notions of how a "girl should act" are corrupt.

"This program breaks some stereotypes," Crates said. "(It's) OK to get engaged in physical activities — to yell and scream."

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