Bridging the Gap through Sports

By Gloria Romano-Barrera

Bridging the gap, advocacy, and developing strong leaders and athletes of tomorrow, foundations, and associations such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Latina Golfers Association (LGA), and the ELLA Foundation are dedicating their efforts to the most powerful force in our nation: Latinas. Not only are they building a stronger future, but bringing the best in each individual through sports.

The ally, advocate and catalyst for tomorrow’s leaders, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) enables girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life. Founded by Billie Jean King in 1974, Elizabeth Flores-Amaya, Director, Community Impact, Women’s Sports Foundation is inspired by what she has often said ‘she needs to see it, to be it’.

WSF strengthens and expands participation and leadership opportunities through their research, advocacy, grants and fellowships, educational curricula, mentoring events and wide range of community programs. Considered a leading voice driving gender equity in sport, the WSF has positively shaped the lives of millions of youth, high school and collegiate student-athletes, elite athletes and coaches.

“I’m proud to say we’re in our eighth year of our very impactful Sport 4 Life initiative, which WSF co-created with our national partner, espnW,” says Flores-Amaya. “We created this initiative based on the knowledge that while sports participation offers tremendous life-long benefits – from improved physical health and self-esteem, to better grades in school and enhanced leadership skills – girls of color were being disproportionately excluded. We founded Sport 4 Life to help increase participation and retention of Latina and African-American girls in developmental youth sports programs – to help build their confidence, self-esteem, perseverance and leadership skills.”

Just last year WSF released data showing the positive impact the initiative is having. For example, Sports 4 Life has served 157 community-based organizations in 34 states (plus Washington D.C. and U.S. Virgin Islands), with over $1.4 million in grant awards reaching more than 60,000 girls in over 34 sports.

“Research has shown that girls tend to enter sports later and drop out earlier than boys and this is often compounded for girls of color, including Latina girls,” shares Flores-Amaya. “Access and opportunity can be a challenge, which is why we created the Sports 4 Life initiative.”

The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more challenging for everyone, – impacting access to play spaces, fields, gyms, facilities; impacting community programs and teams being able to safely come together to play; everyone shifting from in-person to on-line and the challenges of accessing and learning new technology. WSF worked with community partners throughout the turbulent year, listening to their needs and responding with added help and resources – all to help support girls across the country.

Today Flores-Amaya is very excited about the new partnership with Athleta on the Power of She Fund, which is geared to empower girls and women, and to fuel their confidence to reach new heights on the playing field, in the studio, in the community, at work and at home. One of the main initiatives under this umbrella is Wellness for All, a grant program that will support women of color entrepreneurs and organizations committed to making wellness and fitness more accessible and inclusive to female BIPOC communities. Applications for this new fund opens in June.

Flores-Amaya hopes to see more Latinas get involved in sports, at all levels – grassroots and community, to collegiate to professional. And across the board of roles – as athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, owners. “I’m proud that we here at WSF, with the work that we do, play a part in encouraging, celebrating and advocating for Latina girls and women, and all girls and women, to unlock their limitless possibilities through the power of sport,” she shares. “People can get involved in sports, and support Latinas in sports, in so many ways. Pick up a sport yourself – as a player, coach or fan. Follow Latina athletes like Marta. Watch the games Jessica Mendoza calls. Follow America, Eva, Becky G and Angel City FC as they get ready to launch their first-ever season. And support your daughters, nieces, sisters and moms who play – at any/all levels. From school teams to community fields to pick up games with friends. It all counts.”

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With a mission to empower women by teaching them how to leverage golf as a business tool, the Latina Golfers Association (LGA) acts as a “welcoming committee” for Latinas to the world of golf.

For the past 13 years, the LGA has introduced thousands of Latinas to the world of golf. The LGA created a welcoming environment in a sport that has translated into real opportunities, opened doors, and provided access to a world once reserved for men in the corporate and business world. The organization has also provided women with the tools for them to participate in the most effective business networking arenas known in the business world.

“I see first-hand how our members’ careers are enhanced through golf,” says Azucena Maldonado, Founder, Latina Golfers Association. “I am especially proud of the work the Latina Golfers Association does to introduce young Latinas to the sport of golf, especially girls from economically challenged communities. Our intention is to plant a seed with the girls to have them take up a sport they may have never considered before; a sport that can lead them to scholarship opportunities and even a profession, whether it’s to become a professional golfer or a career in the golf industry. The LGA has built relationships with the golf industry that have expanded their outreach into our communities and that has been very rewarding.”

For Maldonado, Golf is the only sport that bridges the gap between young people and adults. She believes it’s a sport that can connect you to and provide you with access to decision-makers, elected officials, and influential community leaders that can help you in life, school, and work. She also believes it’s a sport/game that teaches patience and strategic thinking, visualization, and most importantly how to let go and move beyond bad decisions or mistakes.

“One of the reasons I love golf is because it is a sport/game that levels the playing field,” she shares. “Golf breaks down cultural and gender barriers. What I especially love is that golfers are like Comadres! Once a golfer we are welcomed into the golf familia that reaches every corner of the world!”

The LGA partners with Latina/o organizations throughout the country by co-hosting webinars that introduce Latinas to golf as well as organizing fun golf clinics and lessons that familiarize women with the fundamentals of golf. It also conducts outreach to professional women who will benefit and enhance their careers by learning how to participate in business golf outings that have traditionally been dominated by men.

“While there are less than a handful of U.S. Latina professional golfers, the number of young Latinas in the pipeline to step in their shoes is growing exponentially,” shares Maldonado. “There are a growing number of Latina girls participating in high school golf teams and moving up to participate in college golf teams with their sights on becoming professional golfers. They now have Latinas to look to for inspiration on the LPGA Tour, like Lizette Salas, the most notable professional Latina golfer in the United States. I am so excited that the next three years will bring an explosion of U.S. Latina professional golfers and that is great for the industry and for our community.”

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Supporting young Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence, the ELLA Foundation (Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes) works on developing leadership in Latina athletes through education, training, mentorship, and advocacy in the sports community. ELLA is expanding relationships with the Latino community by increasing awareness and knowledge in leadership development and higher education through sports.

“There is a huge misconception among the Latino community about being able to afford private high schools and or top universities,” says Lilly Travieso, founder of the ELLA Foundation. “The ELLA foundation works on bridging this gap of knowledge with the ultimate goal to create more educated Latinas in order to have a better outcome in life by breaking cultural conformities.”

Currently, the foundation offers mentorship programs for high school athletes to guide them through their athletic recruiting process. We also expanded mentorship for college athletes as they seek career opportunities as they graduate from college. We are also looking forward to working together with the NCAA in making true changes that will level the playing field for all women in college sports and fix the gender disparities.

Travieso believes the foundation strengthens Latinas by developing strong Latina leaders that will impact their communities while establishing their own legacy through sports as they excel in life.

“As diversity and equality continue to be at the forefront of our lives, sports have opened many doors and continue to catapult Latinas to new and better opportunities for them in the future,” she shares. “Engaging in sports at an early age provides unlimited opportunities locally and internationally. It prepares young women with structure, powerful work ethics and provides a solid foundation where you can develop leadership skills inside and outside the field.”

The voice of ELLA, Travieso is making a difference by sharing her own struggles and accomplishments throughout her recruitment journey. By bringing knowledge and awareness, she believes Latinas can have the same opportunities as long as they are educated and feel empowered.

“In the next 10 years, we hope to level the playing field not only for Latinas but women in general,” she shares. “As women continue to conquer the world of sports we hope to see more women in higher power positions like Kim Ng, the first general manager of a professional baseball team at the Florida Miami Marlins.”

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