Local organization recruits Northwestern athletes to encourage girls to play sports

Stephanie Kelly, City Editor

An Evanston organization that encourages girls to participate in sports has recently incorporated Northwestern athletes as volunteers for its programming.

Team Girls Play Sports’ mission is to expose girls to a variety of sports so they can decide whether to continue playing when they reach high school, said Liz Brieva, a co-founder and director. The organization, which has been working with fourth and fifth grade Evanston/Skokie School District 65 students since 2012, is in its first year of working with middle school students, she said. Staff decided in November to start recruiting NU athletes as volunteers for the program.

Brieva and co-founder Chris Livatino, the athletic director at Evanston Township High School since 2006, came up with the idea when Livatino saw a drop in female participation in middle school sports, said Megan Livatino, Team GPS’ treasurer.

“They came up with this idea to start getting the elementary school girls interested in sports and introduce them to different sports that they would not normally be introduced to,” Megan Livatino said.

The program brought two sports to the group of elementary school students each month, with high school girls helping out. Team GPS staff saw the participation numbers in the program increase over the years and then decided to expand the program to include middle school girls, said Megan Livatino. Currently participation numbers for the middle school program have been 20 to 24 girls each month, with that number steady since October, Brieva said.

Chris Livatino said the program is important because girls tend to lose interest in athletics when they hit puberty in their middle school years, resulting in an “athletic disconnect” during those years. Sports programs lose girls that might otherwise have participated, he said, adding that such programs teach vital lessons such as teamwork, hard work, commitment and sacrifice.

The organization also incorporates a social component to the sessions. Last month’s discussions focused on bullying and this month will focus on body image, Megan Livatino said. In November, Team GPS brought NU athletes to the program and so far about 15 to 20 athletes from sports such as cross country, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer and softball have worked with the students, Brieva said.

Brieva also said the athletes have taken an active role in both the drills and the discussion that stems from it.

Isabel Flens, a Communication sophomore, worked with the students twice during January. The field hockey player said she played tennis with the girls and taught them about combating bullying with the Wildcats Stand Up and an anti-bullying campaign called ROARR. ROARR, which stands for Reach Out and Reinforce Respect, started at NU, according to the athletics website.

“We just wanted to tell them the importance of what it means to be on a team and make sure everybody feels comfortable,” Flens said. “It was really cool to see how excited they got when we showed up.”

Flens said the program shows what opportunities, such as being a female college student-athlete, is possible for them.

“It’s to show them that they can play any sport that they want to even though when you think about girls ‘sport’ isn’t usually the first thing that comes up to your mind,” she said.

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