It hasn’t been long since former field hockey captain Courtnie Williamson and former women’s soccer player Brianna Pinto graduated from UNC. Still, they are already making an effort to make their respective sports more diverse.
During her playing career at North Carolina, Williamson became a three-time national champion and was the first Black captain in North Carolina field hockey history. Her experience inspired her to create Beyond Our Game, an organization that empowers athletes of color, in 2020 while pursuing her MBA.
Similarly, Pinto founded the Pinto Futbol Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing accessibility to soccer, shortly after graduating from UNC. The midfielder has played for the North Carolina Courage of the National Women's Soccer League since 2022.
During their college careers, Williamson and Pinto bonded over their experiences as Black athletes playing their respective sports. Their similar experiences compelled them to create something that will help younger athletes of color get into field hockey and soccer.
On April 16, Beyond Our Game and the Pinto Futbol Foundation will host a Diversity Field Hockey & Soccer Clinic at the Bill Koman Practice Complex on UNC's campus. The free clinic aims to provide access and resources to young girls and families of color and help minimize the various barriers to participation in sports.
The immersive, full-day experience includes field hockey and soccer training sessions, free lunch, facility tours, an autograph session and a panel on diversity, equity and inclusion. Williamson and Pinto said the event will mark the largest diversity youth event UNC has ever hosted on campus, with over 110 girls of color from the third to eighth grades registered to attend.
"We wanted to use our platforms to create positive change,” Williamson said. “It just made sense for us to come together as women of color with organizations meant to uplift the communities we care about.”
The clinic's training sessions will be coached by former UNC teammates of Pinto and Williamson, including UNC women's soccer players Maycee Bell and Sam Meza and former UNC field hockey players Meredith Sholder and Bryn Boylan. Pinto also said some of her NC Courage teammates will also serve as coaches during the soccer session.
“The support from all these teams has been instrumental in the planning of our event,” Pinto said. “We want to give (the girls) teams they can support in their own community.”
The clinic has partnered with sponsors to give participants opportunities to take home equipment to help them continue playing their sport. Adidas will provide t-shirts and soccer balls to all campers, while Longstreth Sporting Goods, a top field hockey equipment provider, has donated field hockey sticks and other equipment.
Williamson and Pinto also said they plan to offer a few scholarships to families to help cover the cost of their daughters playing on a club team for a season.
“My parents spent thousands of dollars between my brothers and I over the years to get us to soccer,” Pinto said. “If we could play a small role in eliminating those barriers, that’s a win.”
Pinto said she is most looking forward to holding valuable conversations on DEI and talk about her experiences with the clinic participants. Williamson, who said she did not have diverse opportunities to participate in sports when she was younger, said she's looking forward to seeing attendees be able to compete with other girls who look like them.
“These little girls of color get to come on campus and see what it could be,” UNC Senior Associate Athletic Director Cricket Lane, who serves on the event’s planning team, said. “Without this, they probably wouldn’t have that opportunity. They wouldn’t know what the game was about and they wouldn’t see it from players who look like them.”
Williamson and Pinto said they hope clinics like this will have a generational impact on their sports in years to come. Planning team member Jules Micchia said their goal is not just to open a door of opportunity but bring young players through it.
“Our hope is that this will be replicated across the country,” Pinto said. “We don’t want to just do this and be done with it. We hope other people pick up on this and make the game accessible in their communities.”
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