As junior Kate Hickert, a member of the women's rowing team, held her 9-foot oar, little girls watched in awe as they got to touch and hold the unfamiliar equipment. Behind Hickert, a little girl dressed in a Wonder Woman costume tried the indoor rowing machine while team members cheered her on.
Sunday was for the girls as a record number of kids showed up to UNC’s celebration of the 31st annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. The sold-out event drew crowds of over 900 to Fetzer Gym, where attendees met nine UNC women’s sports teams.
“We encourage girls to get involved in athletics,” Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development Cricket Lane said of the celebration. “We hopefully give them some experience in sports that they’ve never seen or don’t know anything about.”
The women’s rowing, field hockey, track and field, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, volleyball and basketball teams each were in attendance, with stations where participants could meet the student-athletes and try their hands at the sports.
“It’s amazing,” Lane said. “You see little kids who have never experienced holding a field hockey stick or a lacrosse stick, and their joy. We know that we can compete, so being able to expose women and girls to different sports is great.”
The usual pick-up games in Fetzer were replaced with little girls learning to work an indoor rowing machine with the rowing team, doing relays with the track team, shooting on the soccer team and playing knock-out with the basketball team. Rameses made an appearance for photos, along with three National Championship trophies won by the women’s lacrosse, track and soccer teams.
“I hope that they take away that no matter what their size or their shape, how tall or small or whatever they look like, that they can be strong and they can participate in whatever sport they want to,” Hickert said. “It’s inspiring to see how much the kids love it and reminds me why I got involved in the first place.”
Women’s soccer captain Annie Kingman said she enjoyed the energy the girls brought.
“It reminds me of how we all were when we were little and wanting to grow up and be soccer players," Kingman said. "Watching them and their energy is really inspiring.”
This year’s national theme, Play Fair, Play IX, was designed to empower women and girls and give them the courage, confidence and character to push their limits. Beneath signs that read, ‘Healthy girls save the world,’ girls could alternately learn about leading a healthy lifestyle and buy Girl Scout cookies at booths lining the gym. In one booth, girls learned about the history of women in sports and what opportunities playing sports provides.
“It’s super empowering, because we get to see what sports can do for women, and it shows that we can use it to get an education, we can use it to go on and make great friendships and use it as a platform to open doors and see what’s out there,” Kingman said. “Let’s see what sports can do to bring people together, to create opportunity, to learn and to have fun.”
The crowd, carrying posters signed by the UNC women’s teams, made their way to Carmichael Arena with free tickets for the women’s basketball game against the Miami Hurricanes after the celebration.
“I hope that the girls found a sport that they really enjoy today,” Lane said. “And I hope they want to come back and see our women play that sport.”