Valuing Ourselves: Coach Amy Skeen visits Summer Camp by Katherine Wajrowski

Over the last few years, the title, Coach, has been placed behind my name in just about every program we offer to girls here at Girls in the Game. Nowadays, my work is mostly concentrated in our growing After School Program, but last week I had the opportunity to spend two wonderfully sunny and active days at our Summer Camp at Union Park. Over the last few years, I’ve also been inspired by many brilliant leaders in our organization, including our President Emerita, Amy Skeen. Amy’s love for Girls in the Game is contagious and I think I speak for many when I say it’s common to leave a meeting or conversation with her re-energized and ready to advocate for our girls.

Well, sometimes the stars align and Amy and I just happened to be guest coaching the same Health and Leadership rotation of Summer Camp last Thursday. Although the activity implemented that day was one that I’d led groups of girls through countless times in the past, I couldn’t help but feel like I was a participant experiencing it for the first time when it was being led by Coach Amy herself.

This particular day we were talking about self-esteem and body image. She held up a magazine cover of LeAnn Rimes in an itty bitty American flag bikini and asked her small group of 9-11 year old campers, “Do you know who this woman is?”

Being that LeAnn, although an accomplished country artist, isn’t currently on the radar of many youth these days- Coach Amy was faced with blank stares that were eagerly trying to figure out the mystery.

“This is LeAnn Rimes…looking at this magazine cover, do you have any idea what she is known for? What she is famous for?”

Looking at the magazine cover, the girls were only given the clues they could see: her body type, hair/eye color. Coach Amy revealed her profession and the girls shared that they had no way of knowing that based on the photo. Although LeAnn is a talented artist known for her musical skills – the magazine editors chose to display her nearly naked body.

Through this activity, Coach Amy was showing the girls (and me!) that our value has nothing to do with our outward appearances but instead, in our strength, courage and voice. That’s why at Girls in the Game, we focus on the Whole Girl. It is a beautiful thing to watch girls recognize their inner worth, it is important we plant these seeds and water them so these same girls can combat the constant struggle of having their worth being decided based solely on their looks as they grow up.

AND, in case you were wondering- the girls, Coach Amy and I had some fantastic ideas for ways to showcase LeAnn and the Whole Woman that she is; some of the top ideas were to show her singing, holding a microphone or standing on stage.

After discussing how to showcase LeAnn’s talents, the girls had the opportunity to write down all the things they love about themselves. Looking at the poster they created below, I see at least forty different ways to value them outside of their outward appearance.

Stay smart and strong.

K Blog


Think Big by Beth Tumiel

A few weeks ago, I attended a Girls in the Game Game Day at Oglesby School.  Everything went as planned.  Eighty girls, two hours, flag football, chatting about friendships and bullying, dancing.  The girls laughed loudly and got grass stains on their knees. They cheered for each other and talked about moving fast and being strong.  Overall, it was a great day.  For me, for the volunteers, for the girls.

Though it was a great day, what made the day memorable for me was overhearing one simple statement.  “People from around the world will see your photo and hear the stories about how amazing you are.”

A corporate volunteer from Johnson Controls asked for a moment to speak with the girls. She told them that she will post their picture and tell their story on her work portal.  She told them that their photograph will be seen by staff as soon as they turn on their computers to start work.   She told them that their photograph will be seen by staff throughout the country.  And she told them that people from around the world will see their photo and read the story about how amazing they are.  It was only after this last statement that a group of girls standing next to me raised their eyebrows, moved back their shoulders in pride and nodded their heads.  A few girls gasped.  It seemed big.

This got me thinking about the power of expectation.  If we recognize that people from all around the world will think these girls are amazing, they will begin to believe that they are amazing.  And isn’t that what we want for our girls?  For them to be seen and see themselves as the amazing people they are?  If we think big, the girls will think big.  And in this, we have a great responsibility.  Girls will rise up to the expectations we set for them, so we better set them high.  And we’d better believe that they can reach them.

So, when I talk about Girls in the Game, I will talk big.  I will talk about how the stories of the girls who live in our Chicago communities are heard throughout the city, throughout the country, throughout the world.  I will let the girls know how far their stories reach and that their stories are important, impactful and powerful. I will talk about how these girls, and all girls, matter. That’s how Girls in the Game works – one girl, one neighborhood at a time.

Title IX Settlement-Cutting Youth Sports for Girls Deepens the Issue of Participation by Meghan Morgan

How many girls who’ve never played a sport are going to try out for their high school team?

Not many.

Last week, CPS announced that they are increasing the number of high school girls’ sports teams. At the same time, sports programs at the elementary level are being eliminated. At Girls in the Game, we know that girls can’t wait until high school to get in the game. For many girls, it’s too late.

In 2010 the National Women’s Law Center filed a complaint against a number of school districts for Title IX violations. Chicago was the worst of the offenders, with the largest percentage gap between female students and female athletes.

Last week, CPS announced that it will expand the number of athletic opportunities for high school females as part of a larger settlement with federal investigators. In addition to expanding opportunities for female athletes, by 2018 schools must survey students on their interest in athletic participation to gauge the need for more athletic opportunities. But it’s not that simple.

My almost 3-year-old goes to soccer every Saturday. It involves activities like stomping on bubbles and building towers with cones; you know, those important drills to gear toddlers up for some hard-core soccer. More importantly, it gives him a chance to run around with other kids and he likes it. But it’s not cheap and for many families, it wouldn’t be an option.

Therein lies the dilemma for many kids and families in Chicago. Before the high school level, there are few low-cost or no-cost opportunities for kids to participate in sports. There are even fewer girl-only opportunities for young girls and we know how important it is for girls to have that safe, all-girl space.

At Girls in the Game, we aim to level the playing field so that all girls have the opportunity to try sports when they are young, not just the girls whose families can afford to pay. Our programs teach girls sports they’ve probably played before, like soccer, and sports that are probably new to them, like tennis or flag football.

Last year Loyola University found that the percentage of girls enrolled in our after school programs that were overweight or obese was actually higher than the overall population of CPS. That means that Girls in the Game reaches those girls that are hard to reach and likely wouldn’t participate in a co-ed or highly competitive sports program. Our program offers them a safe space to be active and try new sports, so that they’ll realize the value of physical activity and continue on that healthy path.

Girls Allowed: Why Female Role Models Matter by Meghan Morgan

At Girls in the Game we often get asked if we can accommodate male volunteers. Our answer, always, is “Of course. Girls need to see positive male role models. It’s important.”  And it is important. Despite creating a safe, girl-only, welcoming environment for our girls, the worlds they inhabit include boys and men and they need to learn how they should be treated and respected. I love that we create an environment to support those lessons.  One of my favorite memories at Girls in the Game is overhearing Coach Karl, a former AmeriCorps staff member, talk about how he demonstrated sportswomanship at camp that day.

I think I love that story so much because I’m aware of how rare it is and that it demonstrates what is unique about Girls in the Game.

Before I started working at Girls in the Game, I worked for a generous, charitable organization, the Elks National Foundation (, which is the benevolent arm of the Elks. Many people think of the Elks Club as the place where their Grandfather used to hang out but it is so much more than that. The Elks give back to their communities in so many different ways and the Elks National Foundation makes that possible.

One of their youth programs is the Elks Hoop Shoot. When I worked there, the Hoop Shoot was my favorite of all the Elks programs. I love basketball and seeing the intensity, commitment and passion of the young athletes always inspired me.  The Hoop Shoot was mostly volunteer-run and the volunteers’ commitment to the kids and the program was clear. But it was also very male.

One of the great things about the Hoop Shoot is that the girls and boys competed at an equal level. The girls’ contests were as exciting and talked about as the boys. But when you looked at the people running the program 11 years ago, there was a noticeable lack of females. I worried about what kind of message that sent to the girl contestants. What does that tell them about their future in the world of sports when they only saw male officials, volunteers and coaches?

The next year, I broke the gender barrier at the Hoop Shoot National Finals by serving as one of the rebounders. Hear more about my experience and the program’s ongoing efforts to include females as volunteers, in the video below.