So what happens if there are girls who want to play football? Shouldn't they have an opportunity to do so? Are there places for them to play as well?
Believe it or not, there ARE organizations out there who want girls to have the opportunity to play the game of football as much as the boys do. In this interview, Dana Donahue Sparling, Executive Director of the Fins Up Foundation for Female Athletics, Inc. offers an in-depth perspective on her love for the game and fervent wish that the sight of girls playing football be as commonplace as girls playing any other sport.
A. First, let me explain that this is an annual camp produced and fully funded by donations made to the Fins Up Foundation for Female Athletics, Inc. (501-c3 not-for-profit.) Fins Up was founded in 2003 by New York Sharks owner, Andra Douglas.
The New York Sharks, LLC are involved by way of the hand-selected players that
I choose each year to be coaches for the camp. Hence, this is why I refer to this as a collaborative effort and "partnership" between our two organizations.
In 1999, the Women's Professional Football League was formed. It consisted of two teams, the Minnesota Vixens and the Lake Michigan Minx.
They barnstormed around the country playing each other in what was called the
"No Limits" tour. They had heard about the success of the Long Island Sharks and challenged them to a full contact, tackle football game. The Sharks accepted the challenge and with two months to prepare, converted their flag football team to a tackle football team.
On Saturday, December 11th, the Minnesota Vixens came to Mitchell Field to take on the Sharks. Before 300 fans on a windy day at Mitchell Field, the Sharks shocked Minnesota, defeating them 12-6. The rest is history...
Q2. What are your ultimate goals for this program?
A. My current goal for our Annual Flag Football Camp for Girls is twofold: to expand it into a second annual event which would actually be a tournament for more experienced young female flag players; and secondly, to develop a working partnership with the NFL Officiating Academy (division of the NFL Officiating Department) in which we would provide opportunities for young girls to learn the skills necessary to become NFL Officials. I have just recently begun this journey with Vanessa Streeter from the NFL who approached us with this ground-breaking idea and opportunity.
Q3. How many girls participate annually? Do they return?
A. Our numbers grow annually and this year we expect nearly 100 girls to participate in the camp from the greater tri-state area.
Yes, many of the girls return each year until they reach the age of 18 when they have the opportunity to try out for The New York Sharks if they have an interest in playing tackle football. A very different game obviously, due to the contact, but an opportunity nonetheless.
A. Actually, for 3 years (2007-2009), we ran this program through the NFL as an NFL-JPD (Jr. Player Development) clinic at the old Giants practice "Bubble" facility. The Giants organization has always supported our camp in some way. We're grateful for their support of what we do!!
Parents love it and we have girls who come back year after year. I've been getting the word out about the camp to the recently formed PSAL Girls Varsity Flag Football League in NYC. No feedback or relationship with Pop Warner.
Q5. Many parents have qualms regarding their sons participating in football, how do you encourage parents to allow their girls to play? Are there any stereotypes that need debunking?
A. Great question. On the heels of several tragic head injury-related incidents in the NFL in the past couple of years, the concern over the safety of the sport in general is high right now, especially in the minds of parents with young sons participating in the sport.
On the other hand, it is also the nature of the sport and I don't think it should be of any real shock to anyone that the risk of serious injury will always exist. The information is out there. Parents of young male players and adult male players make a choice to play and take that risk.
On the girls/women's side, the same applies of course, but since our camp teaches the fundamentals of football in general (not strictly flag or tackle), we haven't found the concern of serious injury to be an obstacle for us in garnering participants, especially since there is minimal contact during the camp.
The biggest hurdle is the one of getting society, in general, to accept and embrace the idea of girls playing football at all. We know that the task of changing hearts and minds happens slowly and requires patience and persistence. Operating on a minimal budget with a small but dedicated volunteer staff, we are committed to affecting this "change"...one day and one person at a time.
In the coming year, however, my goal is to ramp up our "social awareness" efforts by scheduling additional speaking engagements at local schools and other girls' sports-related organizations.
Q6. Are there any key benefits of playing football for girls? Please elaborate.
A. Where do I start? There are physical, emotional, mental and societal benefits. Aside from the obvious benefit of physical conditioning, the girls "feel" good about themselves (as with any other physical activity.) The connection between physical exercise and mental & emotional health is unquestionable and has been proven time and time again in studies conducted by such organizations as the Women's Sports Foundation.
Various studies conducted have also proven that participation in sports of any kind reduces the rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse and criminal behavior. Girls who participate in sports, including football, build their self-esteem and build a healthy sense of "self." We incorporate these concepts and other life skills into our Foundation's mission and the camp itself. Other life skills we teach through the sport of football include goal-setting, teamwork and respect for others.
A. While we applaud Jasmine Plummer for her leadership in girls playing football, we strive for the idea of girls playing football to be viewed by society as "commonplace" rather than as a "special interest story."
Q8. Your group offers a "Fins Up Girls Flag Football Camp" that's scheduled for May. Can you explain more about it?
A. The best place to get all of the details on the camp is by visiting one of two websites: www.finsupfoundation.org or www.nysharksfootball.com/. The events of the day, registration forms, and my contact information are all there.
The camp is FREE as it is produced by the Fins Up Foundation and all expenses are covered by donations of the generous supporters of our mission. The camp is for girls, ages 12-17 and we work with all skill levels. We provide free busing and lunch as well! It's an amazing fun-filled day for all!
In addition, I've just secured a commitment from the NFL and the NY Giants to be "present" at our camp. The NFL will be giving away "Goodie Bags" with Play 60 shirts, USA Football wristbands and more!! We're thrilled to have the NFL's support!!
Q9. Who's your favorite team and why?
A. I have a couple of favorite teams: The USC Trojans are my absolute favorite college team and the S.F. 49ers and Giants are my NFL teams. I lived and worked in the S.F. Bay Area before migrating to the Northeast about 23 years ago, hence my allegiance to the Niners.
The Giants? Well, they're one of the local teams and have done so much to benefit our cause of women playing football so it's very easy to support them. I hail from Southern California originally. My grandfather played tight end for SC back in the 1930's so we grew up going to SC football games. Football's been in my blood since I was a child. I shall always bleed cardinal and gold. Lol!
Q10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
A. I love football with every fiber of my being and in any way, shape or form. It amazes me that at my age, my love for this sport still continues to grow.
I am also passionate about what I believe participating in the sport I love can teach young girls. It is my hope that when the girls walk off the field of play, they have the potential to just be more fulfilled, well-adjusted, and self-confident human beings on a planet that often isn't easy to live on.
If you know of a girl who would be interested in playing football, be sure to visit the following websites: http://www.finsupfoundation.org/ OR http://www.nysharks.com/ for a registration form. CAMP STARTS IN MAY AND FILLS UP QUICKLY! DON'T DELAY!
Furthermore, if you believe in the work that The NY Sharks and the Fins up Foundation for Female Athletics, Inc. are doing, DONATE to the cause! Your donations will be most appreciated! SPREAD THE WORD!
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