A group of women join together to encourage young girls to get involved in sports and raise some money for college scholarships. Big news? Not if you’re talking bake sales and car washes.
But this isn’t about brownies. And the women behind GirlsRI — the group formed here early this summer –have something that sets them apart. They are major players in Rhode Island’s business community. They’ve got clout. And they are taking this mission seriously.
“We can’t wait for it to happen,” said Beverly Wiley, president of GirlsRI. “We have to make it happen.”
The mission of GirlsRI is not complicated. The group will work to promote girls’ sports programs and introduce girls to opportunities, such as scholarships and professional careers related to sports. GirlsRI plans to hold seminars, clinics, camps and symposiums designed to enlighten girls — to show them that if they would rather be on the field, than the sideline, they can.
GirlsRI would also like to see more girls get involved in sports, because it is good for their physical and spiritual well being. The statistics may convince you to head outside in the back yard tonight and kick a soccer ball around with your daughter, or perhaps shoot a few free throws.
According to the American Association of University Women, the expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women must continue at both the high school and college levels because:
- Playing sports enhances the educational experience by providing opportunities for leadership, teamwork, and competition.
- Athletics contributes to positive body image and good health.
- Among athletic scholarship recipients, female athletes have higher graduation rates than non-athlete students.
- Eighty percent of women business leaders in Fortune 500 companies participated in sports during their childhood.
GirlsRI is affiliated with the New York-based Women’s Sports Foundation, which was started by tennis superstar Billie Jean King. The organization awards grants and sponsors its own forums, all in the name of women’s sports. That gives the fledgling GirlsRI a well of national resources in which to tap. Locally, the organization is off to an impressive start.
Major backers of GirlsRI include Women & Infants Hospital, Merrill Lynch and the Providence law firm Edwards & Angell. A formal ceremony marking the inception of the group took place this summer in the atrium at Women & Infants Hospital.
Constance A. Howes, an executive vice president at Women & Infants, said that the hospital is thrilled to support GirlsRI.
We are proud to support a local organization that will focus on the needs of girls and women in relation to sports, nutrition, and fitness,” said Howes.
The women who make up the GirlsRI board of directors all share a love of sports. And most point to athletics as having a profound impact on their professional development.
Laurie Kirby, of Middletown, is a good example. She is a lawyer at Edwards & Angell who does a lot of real estate development, conservation law and non-profit work. Early in her career, Kirby was a prosecutor for the Middletown Police Department. She is a former varsity lacrosse player at Rutgers University who now golfs, plays tennis and snowboards. She and her husband have two boys and a girl.
Kirby can’t emphasize enough the important role sports has — and continues to play — in her life.
“All of these things that I do give me self confidence,” she said. “They help me stay strong physically.”
A background in sports has also helped Kirby in the courtroom.
“When you are a lawyer you have to not only be able to express yourself, but have confidence in your opinions,” she said. “Being an athlete has forced me to become an organized person. And being a golfer has obviously helped in the business arena.”
Wiley said the national landscape for women’s sports is changing and the time is right to capitalize on the momentum. Women’s professional sports — including the WNBA — are on television more often than ever. And attendance at women’s college games continues to rise, she said.
And it’s all becoming big business, Wiley said.
“Marketers are looking at women’s sports and seeing that they have fallen down,” she said. “They haven’t taken advantage of an opportunity. Look at a family — who does the purchasing?”
Perhaps, most importantly, Wiley said, is the fact that girls are now seeing role models on television. They are hearing more about women’s sports programs at schools like URI — where Washington Trust Bank in recent years has taken part in a campaign to promote women’s sports — Providence College and Brown University.
The GirlsRI organization appears to be on the right track. Joining Van Couyghen, DeMarco, and Kirby on the board of directors are Emily Anderson, Dr. Doreen Wiggins, a women’s health specialist, and Ann Gooding, of Warwick.
Gooding is an independent public relations specialist for government agencies and non-profit organizations. She is a member of the GirlsRI board of directors and for 20 years has worked with the Warwick Figure Skaters Club. She and her husband have four girls and one boy.
Gooding is encouraged that her children are finding more opportunities than she did as a girl.
“I grew up in an era when organized sports programs were not readily available to young girls,” Gooding said.
The idea of fostering teamwork, Gooding said, will only help children as they grow older.
“Sports forces you to work col-aboratively,” she said.
As for the present, Wiley said that GirlsRI is working to raise money so that it can begin to give out its own awards and grants to girls. There are clinics and symposiums in the works.
Wiley sees big things for GirlsRI.
And she’s a doer — not a talker.
About 20 years ago she bumped into the assistant athletic director at Brown University at a grocery store.
“Why do you have a man doing the public address announcing at the women’s basketball games?” she asked.
“No one else has offered to do it,” he said.
“I’ll do it,” Wiley said.
She’s been doing it ever since.
Now Beverly Wiley is focused on GirlsRI. Along with Van Couyghen, DeMarco and the others, she’s making things happen again.