School Celebrates Female Athletes as Title IX Hits 50

School Celebrates Female Athletes as Title IX Hits 50
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Karen Lewis Taylor

Underscoring its commitment to gender-equitable experiences in athletics, Ravenscroft marked National Girls and Women in Sports Day and the positive impact of sports on female students.

The landmark Education Amendments Act of 1972 included a powerful provision, known as Title IX, that recognized education as an equal right for all Americans and expressly prohibited gender-based discrimination in sports. Now in its 50th year, Title IX is credited with opening up scholastic athletics to girls and young women throughout the nation.

Earlier this spring, Ravenscroft marked National Girls and Women in Sports Day — the annual day of observance to acknowledge the accomplishments of female athletes, recognize the influence of sports participation for women and girls, and honor the progress and continuing struggle for equality for women in sports — with several events that emphasized the legacy and ongoing work to fulfill the promise of Title IX.

Here, Ravenscroft’s leaders, coaches and athletes explore the tremendous impact of sports on our female students.

The varsity basketball team, managers and coaches Mike Ramel and Tyson Nargassans gather for a photo on Winter Fan Night, with the enthusiastic student section in the stands behind them.

“Sports give us so much”

On Feb. 1, Middle School and Upper School girls were invited to hear from Nina King, Vice President and Director of Athletics at Duke University, about her professional journey and the many positive outcomes of participation in sports for girls and women. She encouraged the girls in attendance to consider the different ways they benefit from engagement in sports, whether as players, team managers, fans or simply through personal fitness activities and classes.

“Sports give us so much,” she said. “Confidence. Strength. Resilience. Healthy habits. The beauty of competition. We learn team-building. We gain role models, and we become role models. The bottom line is, sports give us the tools we need to succeed in life.”

Duke University’​​​​​​s Nina King addresses the assembly of Middle and Upper School girls and takes photos with student-athletes including Sydnee Jefferson Kearney ’​​​​​​23 and Tayla Nargassans ’​​​​​​23, both wearing T-shirts for National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

King was joined by Head of School Doreen Kelly and Athletic Director Ned Gonet — both of whom were collegiate athletes and have coached female student-athletes — as well as more than two dozen Ravenscroft faculty and staff who played sports in school and beyond. Many of them wore black T-shirts created to commemorate the day’s event, emblazoned with the words, “All Girls. All Women. All Sports.”

“I was inspired by Nina King’s speech, as I have goals to work in a field that is dominated by men,” Sydnee Jefferson Kearney ’23, who plays varsity basketball and varsity lacrosse, said. “My greatest takeaway was to not be fearful or afraid of what we may face in our journey. Her comments encouraged me to be prepared to face the challenges that may come my way.”

Varsity cheerleaders fire up the crowd at the Fall Pep Rally. 

The following week, on Feb. 10, the Athletic Department recognized the day — and those female faculty and staff with playing and coaching experience — at a half-time celebration during the girls varsity basketball game against Durham Academy. Ravenscroft Sports Hall of Fame member Liz Burnette Gibbons ’96, who played on both the school’s 1994 state-championship soccer team and 1996 state-championship basketball team, shared in a recording the impact her involvement in scholastic athletics has had on her.

“My time as a member of the soccer and basketball teams at Ravenscroft helped me gain confidence and develop my leadership skills. More importantly, I forged friendships with my teammates that have lasted a lifetime,” she said. “I think it is great that Ravenscroft is celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day!”

Varsity cross country athletes, with assistant coach Brittany Schutte at right, enter the stadium to cheers and applause during the Fall Pep Rally.

Ravenscroft’s varsity coaches, many of whom were present at the events commemorating National Girls and Women in Sports Day, said they see firsthand the impacts King and Gibbons described.

“As a teacher and a coach today, I see so many benefits from a student participating in sports,” said Physical Education teacher and multi-sport coach Brittany Schutte, who rose to the pinnacle of women’s sports on the gold-medal Team USA in the 2011 World Cup of Softball, in the National Pro Fastpitch league and on USA Baseball Women’s National Team. “It allows them to be a part of something bigger than themselves and to learn how to navigate the different personalities and roles that make up a team.”

The varsity field hockey team huddles with head coach Michelle Then, at center.

“We want to see young women playing sports”

Upper School English teacher Alison Kelly, who played Division III volleyball and softball and is head coach of Ravenscroft’s varsity softball team, said athletes also learn to face adversity and overcome setbacks.

“What I’ve really seen in recent years of coaching is this thing we call grit,” she said. “Ravenscroft students, and especially girls, often have a quest for perfection. Sports can be messy and imperfect — and in softball in particular, where getting a base hit one in three tries at bat is considered a solid performance — and student-athletes have to learn how to deal with that, hold their heads up, go back to the dugout and try again next time.”

Varsity golfer Isabella Robinson ’25 putts at Wildwood Green as teammate Darian Schoonmaker ’25 looks on.

The celebration of Title IX and the recognition of the many benefits of sports on girls and women comes at a critical time for many young people in our nation.

“We know from research that young people have been facing an unprecedented mental health crisis in recent years. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers, and 1 in 5 youth have a diagnosed mental health disorder but often go untreated,” Upper School counselor Sam Borkovic said. “We’ve seen that teen girls in particular have been impacted by rising mental health challenges, especially since the pandemic.”

Also worrying, Doreen Kelly said, is recent data suggesting that girls’ engagement in sports is declining. Research shared by the Women’s Sports Foundation indicates that as many as 40% of teen girls nationwide are not participating in sports.

Varsity winter/indoor track athletes competing at the Adidas Track Nationals tournament include Moriah Evans ’24, kicking off the 4x2 relay, and Hana Babu ’27, crossing the finish line in the 60m.

That’s one reason why, as stakeholders across the school community worked together to identify the key priorities that will shape the next five years of growth and direction — a vision captured in 2022’s Framing Our Future: the Strategic Plan for Ravenscroft — strengthening athletics and ensuring equitable programming for girls was among them.

Lacrosse athletes Katie Barger ’26 and Avery Perry ’26 pose for preseason photos.

“As educators, we felt that it was important to place intentional focus on women in sport in our strategic plan,” Doreen Kelly said. “We want to be sure that we see young women playing sports, as we know it can have a positive impact on their overall well-being.”

Borkovic — a state-championship high school soccer player, Division III athlete and former coach — agreed.

“Your mental health is an interweaving of your emotional, physical and spiritual wellness,” she said. “Sports provide another mechanism to practice and strengthen all three of these areas — becoming more emotionally intelligent, more physically fit and part of something bigger than yourself.”

The varsity soccer team — conference champion and a state semifinalist in 2022 — was celebrated as Team of the Week for March 6-10.

“Sports have given me the tools to lead”

None of this is news to Ravenscroft’s female student-athletes, many of whom compete at elite levels and go on to collegiate play. Girls varsity teams account for dozens of the school’s conference championships and 22 state championships — including the dynasty of girls varsity swimming, which has won eight state championships, including four consecutive titles 2013-2016.

Varsity athletes, many of whom have been playing sports since Middle School, attested that they enjoy the benefits explored by King, Doreen Kelly and their coaches: confidence, resilience, strong relationships and leadership skills.

“I really enjoy the feeling of hard work paying off,” said Jade Moorcroft ’23, who has been on the varsity lacrosse, swimming and field hockey teams, earning All-Conference honors for the latter two seasons in a row. “Although I have never been extremely athletically gifted, I have put in many hours in the gym and on the field working on my game. I enjoy proving to myself that I am able to compete in every practice and game to my full potential and give it my all.”

Laeken McConahay ’27 (swimming freestyle) and Taylor Crane ’26 (doing the breaststroke) compete as members of the varsity swim team, which has a long history of dominance in the conference.

“I have learned so much about myself and many valuable life lessons through sports, particularly that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes,” All-Conference varsity softball player Cole MacKinnon ’26 said. “When you do make a mistake, it is very important to get back up and try to fix it so you get it right the next time.”

They also emphasized the interpersonal benefits of being on a team.

“Sports have given me the ability to work through challenges with other people,” said JJ Mitchell ’24, who has played varsity lacrosse for two years and was recognized as Most Improved after her first season. “I’m a very independent person, so doing things by myself is always what I have based my life on. Varsity sports have given me the opportunity to work on real problems with other people, which will prepare me for my future.” 

“The feeling of being on a sports team is one of the best experiences I have had,” added Emily Capell ’25, who is a varsity softball and cheer athlete (the latter for which she has won the Coaches Award). “Being on a team that is all girls also gives you a group of people who will understand you on a very personal level from Day One. These girls become your friends, and you all grow together over the years.”

The athletes also gave credit to their coaches and teammates for their mentorship and modeling of leadership.

“I carry [my coaches’] lessons with me each day, and I am grateful for the time they spent helping me become the best athlete and young woman I can be,” varsity cross country, track & field and basketball athlete (and multiple athletics award-winner) Tayla Nargassans ’23 said. “Having such positive and impactful coaching figures has dramatically increased my love for athletics. They have taught me the true meaning of being an athlete — something that is so much greater than what happens on the trail or court.”

Varsity volleyball libero Campbell Jennings ’23 passes the ball as her teammates prepare for the play.

“Sports have given me the tools to lead,” Alexa Gillon ’24, who is co-captain of the varsity softball team, said. “My time watching other captains before me has really helped me to cultivate and grow the way I want to lead in all aspects of my life. I strive to be approachable and inclusive as a leader, ensuring my teammates can come to me about anything.”

As the many adults at Ravenscroft who are rooting for these students know, high school sports are just the beginning of an exciting journey.

“When I look back on my career, I am grateful for what sports did for my overall development as a leader. I embrace being a strong woman and the sense of self that playing sports provided me,” Doreen Kelly said. “Playing sports provides an excellent way to learn to work hard and have fun.”

“My ultimate goal for my students goes beyond sports to whatever they are passionate about,” Schutte concluded. “I hope they learn they can invest themselves into that with their whole heart, and they will reach heights they never imagined.”

Members of the varsity softball team salute their graduating teammates on Senior Night during the 2022 season, serenading them with Senior Softball Tango,” an adapted version of Cellblock Tango from the musical Chicago.

At top, varsity tennis players demonstrate a strong sense of camaraderie even though their play consists of singles or doubles matches.

Saint Augustine’s University head coach Ebony Tanner ’99


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