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Inaugural Girls in Sports Symposium Focuses on Bravery, Dialogue

 

Clockwise from top: Attendees gather for a group photo; cross country and track athlete Haley Browne ’25, at right, practices her “Brave Pitch” with a partner; softball player Emily Capell ’25 and a partner share their pitches with the group.

On Thursday, April 11, the school hosted 85 student-athletes from Ravenscroft, Durham Academy and Cary Academy for the inaugural Girls in Sports Symposium. The event, spearheaded by Director of Student-Athlete Well-being Sam Borkovic, provided attendees the opportunity to learn from one another, grow in their leadership skills and develop a deeper understanding of the impact of their involvement in sports. 

The day’s agenda included an opening address by Head of School Doreen Kelly — a former collegiate volleyball player, who shared the stories of her family’s four generations of female athletes as well as the impact Title IX had on her own opportunities — and a two-hour intensive that encouraged attendees to explore the many ways they face and overcome fear. The day concluded with student-led dialogues that gave the athletes additional opportunities to think about and share their perspectives — and learn those of others — on a range of topics related to their participation in athletics.

“We know from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport that girls tend to drop out of sport during puberty and reduce their overall physical activity as a result. The reasons for dropping out are both intrapersonal (fear of failure and reduced self-worth) as well as interpersonal (peer dynamics and coaching relationships),” Borkovic explained about the symposium’s overall focus. “Our goal was to grow individual confidence and build community between the schools.”

Borkovic partnered with Brave Enterprises for the morning’s workshop on fear and bravery. According to the company’s website, facilitators provide “dynamic programming that enables people to recognize fear as a cue to take brave action. Our passion is helping people manage stress and self-doubt, tackle obstacles, build resilience, grow confidence, chase goals and communicate authentically.” 

They also offered an optional pre-symposium virtual town hall for participants and their families, chaperones and coaches on Monday, April 8.

Clockwise from top: A view of the entire group as Capell and partner give their “Brave Pitches”; Crista Samaras, CEO of Brave Enterprises, facilitates the workshop; Eve Caudill ’25, Chloe Fox ’25 and Anna Sonntag ’25 continue the exercise by sharing their pitches with a role model in their lives.

Attendees engaged in both pre- and post-symposium surveys and reflection. Results indicate that the program had measurable positive effects on participants, including that 82% of participants felt more brave and 72% felt more confident than before the session. 

Arianna Shirak ’24 said her experience at the event tracked with those numbers. 

“I learned about others’ experiences, as many people ended up having similar fears, and those ‘hard truths’ that make us who we are. After completing the Brave workshop, it felt as if a weight of stressors had been lifted, resulting in a feeling of accomplishment and a boost of confidence,” she said. “This symposium helped me to prioritize and focus on my goals for my future, which I will use moving forward as a soccer and track & field student-athlete next year at Sewanee: The University of The South.”

“During events like these, there are always moments where you have to reflect on how things have been different for you, especially when you are taking on a more male-dominated sport,” multisport athlete Taylor Bradford ’27 added. “Whenever a discussion came up about being brave, it reminded me of times when I was the only girl at a camp or the only girl on the team, and I was treated differently. I realized that I always need to stay true to who I am and pursue the things I am interested in.”

Borkovic agreed on the day’s impact, noting that the event’s focus and outcomes reflect the school’s broader goals for all of its students.

“The symposium was Lead From Here in action — developing a deeper sense of self, evolving in our work with others and fostering change in our teams and school,” she said. 

Borkovic’s role, new this year, is a donor-funded position that focuses both on a holistic approach to student-athlete health and wellness and on gender equity in athletic programming. Other programs for female athletes she has led this year include the celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which featured collegiate athlete Kelly Baker ’20, a passionate advocate of equity in women’s sports; a Girls in Sports Showcase for each season of Ravenscroft athletics; and a career panel featuring representatives from the North Carolina Football Club. Learn more about her work in this Voices feature from November 2023. 

“It was an honor for me to get to welcome such talented female athletes of the Triangle together and share how sports has impacted generations of women in my family,” Kelly said. “I am so grateful to Sam for organizing such an impactful event.”