WIN for KC celebrates 20 years of empowering girls and women through sports

Patti-PhillipsWow, I can’t believe WIN for KC is celebrating 20 years of empowering girls and women through sports and fitness- how remarkable!

WIN has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a small program under the umbrella of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation. Thanks to the dedication and energy of hundreds of volunteers, board, and members, WIN is now a flagship grass roots program in the country, and not only a local, but a regional power in promoting and celebrating girls and women in sports.

WINGroup-20years-375I first got involved in 1998 when I volunteered for the Women’s Final Four in Kansas City. I was working for the NCAA in Kansas City at the time and Brenda VanLengen served as the Executive Director of the NCAA Women’s Final Four, and worked out of the Kansas City Sports Commission office.  She, and first WIN Director Barb (Steinlage) Schlittenhard, encouraged those that were interested in the Women’s Final Four to get involved with WIN for KC, and many of us did!

A year later in ’99 when the NCAA moved to Indianapolis, I was honored and excited to become the next WIN for KC Executive Director. I served for 11 years, and some of my best memories are from WIN and the people I was able to connect with while there.

I have always loved the WIN Mission, to empower girls and women through sports and fitness. We did that through hosting events and opportunities for girls and women to participate in sports, promoting girls and women’s sporting events, and celebrating and acknowledging girls and women’s achievements in sports.

Opportunities to Participate
CampWIN-RugbyEveryone that is involved on any level with WIN knows about Camp WIN – the week long girls sport day camp, and the most awesome week possible for girls ages 6-12!  But you might not know that we started off in 1999 by hosting up to 12 clinics a summer…on Saturday mornings, all over the city.  We tried to reach different demographics by doing this, but we ultimately decided we could have more of an impact by interacting with girls for an entire week, so Camp WIN was born!  Some of my favorite memories are those of the Team Captains (H.S. girls) and the influence they would have on the young campers during the week, and the campers “owning their power and confidence” while wearing camp shirts with empowering words on the back.  We heard some doozies about the heat (and the rain, and the food) from those young ones.  Sometimes I use their excuses when I am out working in the yard on hot days!  Lines like “My mom doesn’t let me go outside when it is this hot.  I am too hot to move, unless it is to sprint to the lunch line…” You get the picture!

The mom’s got so jealous that we actually hosted an afternoon “Camp WIN for Women” one year that featured yoga, tennis, basketball, and an afternoon happy hour!  We knew that if we wanted to change behaviors, habits, confidence levels and mindsets of girls, we had to also include the moms, and so we launched the “I am an Athlete” campaign reminding everyone that no matter their history of sport, everyone has a body and can be in motion. More importantly, being an athlete is a mindset, one that builds and sustains confidence. We all must continue to support each other in these actions and mindsets. I am still wearing my bracelet!

Triathlon-8Our ultimate event for women became the WIN for KC Triathlon.  Participating in my first triathlon truly changed my life and when we had the opportunity to partner with, and eventually take ownership of, the Rose Brooks Triathlon, I jumped at it.  Believe it or not, selling our board on taking on the triathlon was difficult, because at that time, triathlons for women weren’t mainstream and no one had really participated or been a part of one, and there was definitely a financial and reputational risk involved.  But having experienced first-hand how empowering it was to finish one, I knew it was a perfect fit for our brand and that we could pull it off, which we did!  The WIN for KC Women’s Triathlon is now one of the largest and most well run triathlons for women in the entire country. If you haven’t yet, make sure you “tri” it – I promise you can do it!

We also believed it was important to teach people to become women’s sports fans, and to encourage parents to take their girls to women’s sporting events.  Brenda and Barb had created the “Reading & Fitness Challenge,” one of many promotions we hosted to drive attendance and raise awareness for the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship.  I have one word for that – WHOA.  I have great respect for teachers that mold children every day, and am forever indebted to the WONDERFUL volunteers that would assist us in molding (managing) the thousands of children each year!

WIN has always been intentional about supporting our local women’s university and professional teams with ticket promotions, tailgates, and watch parties.  It is so important to take part in these!   Not only does it send a message to the female athletes that they are valued and appreciated, but it sends a strong message to university officials, team owners, and media that women’s sports are important.  Research shows that women’s sports fans have to be cultivated.  Many people (men and women) will say that they only watch men’s sports, but they have never been introduced to, or even given women’s sports a chance.  Most people that try it end up loving it!  We must all take ownership and SHOW UP in order for women’s sports to become mainstream.  This is a “culture changing” service that WIN continues to provide, and I hope you will commit to “showing up” to one of their events this year!

Recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of girls and women in sport is a cornerstone of the WIN mission and also subtly enhances the perception of women in sport. This recognition shines a light on our accomplishments, shows that we do belong and CAN do it, and provides the all-important role models for our young girls to look up and aspire to.  I am proud that the WIN Luncheon, which in its first year had 60 attendees, has become an annual sell-out of 1,200 people and one of the “can’t miss” luncheons of the year.  The six award winners always move and inspire us, and many times out-shine the keynote!  And our addition of the Champions March recognizing all the female state champions in the area is always a highlight for both the champions and luncheon guests.  The WIN luncheon is the largest in the country celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day. It has always been our flagship event, and is significant in its continued success!

I will always cherish my time with WIN for KC and it was an honor to serve an organization so dear to my heart.  I will always remember the selfless board, volunteers, sponsors and partners that gave of their time, talents and HEARTS to make WIN what it is today.  The WIN mission is alive and flourishing not only because of the people it serves, but because of the people who have, and who continue to serve.  THANK YOU, and onward to the next amazing and empowered 20 years!

By Patti Phillips, NACWAA Chief Executive Officer