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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary's athletes, coaches host National Girls and Women in Sports Day clinic for community

On Friday evening, Saint Mary’s College hosted a National Girls and Women in Sports Day clinic. They welcomed about 125 girls, ages 6-12, from the South Bend community to participate in four 30-minute sessions with various Belles’ athletes. Athletes from all eight Saint Mary’s varsity teams spread out across the Angela Athletic Facility, providing a series of fun drills and games for the participants. 

Ahead of the event, Saint Mary’s athletic director Julie Schroeder-Biek spoke to the girls, emphasizing the importance of getting to celebrate the day. Biek noted, chuckling that she was ‘dating herself’, that while she was their age, there were no organized sports for girls and they had to play with the guys if the guys let them. The concept was met with a gasp from the assembled participants. 

“It was just heartwarming to me. That's just what I just wanted to tell you … that's just going to stick in my brain forever,” Biek said. “I think that we have come to a time where they can't imagine life without girls sports.”

After the welcome, the girls split into various groups, attending the sports they had listed as their preferences ahead of the clinic. Across various sports, the activities varied, with the Belles’ athletes teaching basic concepts of their sports and mixing in different games to keep the kids engaged.

Lacrosse started by going over some basics of handling a lacrosse stick, while on the volleyball courts, some of the athletes helped the kids work on serving the ball over the net. The basketball set up events like a dribble relay race and some shooting drills. The softball team set up various hitting and throwing stations around their section of the gym, and tennis athletes soft-tossed balls to girls who practiced their volleys. The golf team utilized their indoor putting green, while the cross country team commandeered the upstairs indoor track. The Belles soccer team started with some basic passing drills before moving to a game of ‘red light, green light’ played while dribbling the ball. 

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One of the participants in Saint Mary's youth sports clinic for girls dribbles a soccer ball during a game.


“They can see us in our sports and have us as role models. They can see that girls can play sports and excel at them,” junior defender Holly Skrip said. “Hopefully, they can use us as inspiration to achieve their goals to play college soccer or any other sport.”  

Other Saint Mary’s athletes echoed Skrip’s sentiments. “I think that's really important because, especially at a young age, girls need to feel like they have opportunities to play sports and really feel empowered by other girls,” senior golfer Katherine Hopkins said. “I think this camp does that really well. And that's why I really love it.” 

While the athletes took on major leadership roles within the clinic, most of the coaches were there as well to offer support and encouragement for all the participants. They appreciated the opportunity for their players to come together as a team and give back to their community.

“It's just really an opportunity for us to showcase what athletics and sports can do for girls and and females and women kind of from top to bottom and you know, it's not just about the sport — it's about everything else that it teaches them,” basketball coach Melissa Makielski commented. 

Tennis head coach Dale Campbell added a similar sentiment.

“This is a great opportunity to work with these and introduce them to different sports," he said. "Give them a little bit of success playing a new sport. Hoping that they learn the sport, gain some confidence and stay with some healthy activities.”

In addition to the leadership opportunity, Belles athletes relished the opportunity to connect with their teammates outside of the standard practice and competition times, working together to inspire another generation of female athletes. 

“It was a lot of fun, especially because we're in offseason right now, so I got to see all of my teammates and get back together. But it's so cool to see all these little girls just from South Bend coming in and playing,” Belles volleyball junior Colleen McCarthy said.

"I loved going to softball camps when I was younger and getting to work with the girls and having role models to follow,” senior softball player Caitlin Traxler said. “It’s something very fun and lighthearted we get to do [as a team] to give back to the community that we love and play for.”

The clinic returned to Saint Mary’s after a two-year absence due to the COVID pandemic. It was the seventh time in the past nine years that the school was able to host the event.

Biek summed up her thoughts on the event succinctly, emphasizing the importance to getting back to host the event after being unable to do so since 2020. 

“I think it's critical that we, as an all-women's college, host one of these events. It's just who we are, as all women. But the other part of it: it's the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which was the law that allowed us to have access to sports,” Biek said. “So that's why it's just critical that we do this, but it's also with our women. It's our way to play it forward. So that, you know, we can just pass on our love of sport to these this next generation of little girls.”

Associate news editor Katelyn Waldschmidt contributed to this reporting.