Leo Elementary sixth-grader Emily Branstetter didn't need Mayor Tom Henry to tell her how important sports are for women and girls. Emily has been swimming with competitive swim teams for five years, including one season with Fort Wayne Aquatics. She said she knows being involved in sports allows her to meet and spend time with friends and get away from schoolwork.
“My favorite part is that I get to go and improve my time and get better at what I do,” Emily said. On Monday, Henry officially declared March 8 Women in Sports Day in Fort Wayne, a day devoted to celebrating women and girls like Emily who participate in organized sports.
Henry spoke at Elmhurst High School to a crowd of women and girls from many age groups and different sports, including Elmhurst student-athletes and members of Fort Wayne Roller Derby. Henry stressed the importance of continuing to honor Title IX and recognizing the importance of women's involvement in sports.
The push for Women in Sports Day came from the state earlier this year. Indiana honors women in sports on Feb. 9, but because of a snowstorm in Fort Wayne, the event was postponed. Jeanette Dillon, chief external officer at Fort Wayne Women's Bureau, said having the day during Women's History Month allows women to draw attention to issues important for women and girls.
“Sport is just one opportunity that has such a positive effect, we really need to pay attention to it,” Dillon said. “It's also nice to remind ourselves of where we've come from, where we are and how we got here.”
Other speakers at the event were local golfer Rita Frenger, Fort Wayne Roller Derby team member Amber Recker, Elmhurst girls basketball coach Mark Redding, and Emily's coach at FWA, 1976 Olympic gold-medal winner Matt Vogel. Each speaker discussed his or her sport and how it has made strides for and because of women.
Vogel said swimming provides girls with a better sense and feel for their bodies, making them less awkward in their transition from adolescence to adulthood. Emily's mom, Angie Branstetter, said she has definitely seen a change in her daughter – specifically her level of confidence.
“She went from being so nervous she'd be sick to her stomach, to having a time that qualifies her for the state meet this weekend,” she said. Vogel sees this confidence not just in Emily, but in all his swimmers.
“More than anything, (girls' involvement in sports) empowers them and gives them more confidence to approach their adult years,” he said.