Shooting For The Stars

She’s Got Game aims to provide new scholarships, opportunities, role models

On the basketball court, Quincy Sickles-Jarvis is known for fighting for rebounds, boxing in opponents and, as she puts it, “pushing the big girls around.” She’s got game.

“It’s about opening the floor up for other players to do their thing – about taking charge and doing the dirty work,” says Sickles-Jarvis, who played three seasons for the Gryphons and is now serving in team management.

Her role as a basketball player in some way parallels what the University of Guelph is trying to do for female athletes in general: Do the hard work, clear a path and open the doors of opportunity so female athletes can be at their best.

The Department of Athletics’ She’s Got Game campaign, with its $2.5-million fundraising goal, focuses on ensuring that female athletes have access to better scholarships, optimal training, and equal opportunities and recognition as their male counterparts.

The seed of She’s Got Game was planted during a fundraising event one February evening just over three years ago. That initial event inspired a much broader movement toward equity in U of G athletics – a movement incorporating awareness and engagement, policy renewal and fundraising.

February is now designated as the month to mark She’s Got Game on the University campus, including an annual gala. The next event will take place Feb. 16, 2019.

“Equal scholarship monies for women and men athletes signal to the athletes that gender is no barrier to our recognition of excellence.”

Like an athlete taking her game up a notch, the University is making strides toward giving women greater prospects to succeed – in school, in competition and in life.

Charlotte Yates, provost and vice-president (academic), says the University has made a major commitment toward ensuring gender equity is front and centre in its processes and practices. Equity is fundamental to building a diverse, inclusive and vibrant community, she says. Equal scholarship support for male and female athletes must be an integral part of the process.

“She’s Got Game is important to female athletes because it elevates our recognition of their contribution to the University’s success in athletic pursuits and excellence,” says Yates.

“Equal scholarship monies for women and men athletes signal to the athletes that gender is no barrier to our recognition of excellence. It also signals to the world that U of G values equally the contributions of women and men.”

Quincy Sickles-Jarvis played three seasons of Gryphons basketball and now serves in team management.
Quincy Sickles-Jarvis played three seasons of Gryphons basketball and now serves in team management.

In three seasons with the Gryphons, Sickles-Jarvis earned a reputation as a player able to hold her own against opponents who often towered over her. She also learned invaluable life lessons and gained strength of character and collaborative skills that she believes will serve her throughout her life.

“It has been a grind, for sure,” says Sickles-Jarvis, who is of Iroquoian ancestry as a descendant of the Oneida Nation of the Thames. Like her female Gryphon counterparts, she has held down a part-time job while being a full-time student and a full-time athlete. She says she has grown immeasurably as a person despite the enormity of the task.

“You learn to love every single minute of it,” says the psychology student. “Because you’re in it with the people you love, people who have like minds and are all doing the exact same thing. You’re there for each other.

“It’s about much more than sport. It teaches you so much – teamwork, accountability, leadership. It is those types of things that you can apply in your life after university.”

Nyasha Mombeshora, a second-year guard with the basketball team, is a strong supporter of the University’s drive for gender equity in sports.

“This is a very important issue for me because I believe female athletes in the past and present have not benefited from competing at a varsity or pro level of sports to the same degree that males have,” says Mombeshora, a biomedical science student.

“Sports are a great outlet for youth, and accessibility to training should be available to everyone no matter a person’s gender, race or ability. I feel that not having as many opportunities for female athletes could steer them towards activities that may not benefit them in the same way that organized sports may.”

She says girls are told there are limits to what they can achieve, and that She’s Got Game could counter those defeatist attitudes and lessons.

“Providing young female athletes with scholarships, for example, will help lift off a financial burden that many female athletes must overcome when facing the realities of university.”

She says it is unfortunate that male sports receive more accolades and sponsorship opportunities than female sports. She hopes She’s Got Game will shine a bigger and brighter spotlight on female athletics.

In recent years, U of G has greatly expanded its athletic facilities, ensuring comparable infrastructure for male and female athletes on campus. Additional change rooms, fitness facilities, gyms and equipment are intended to promote athletic excellence and gender equality, says Scott McRoberts, director of athletics.

“It involves equity around development opportunity of our coaches and equity in hiring.”
Scott McRoberts, director of athletics

U of G’s new athletics centre now offers more female varsity dressing rooms than male dressing rooms, he says, adding that the upgrades have “helped to combat some inequities. The athletics centre is an equal opportunity facility in terms of both male and female teams having access to it.”

The goal of ensuring equity is pervasive in U of G athletics and is integral to the department’s policy, says McRoberts. And while equity in competitive opportunity and support for athletic services is an essential element, the policy includes much more.

“It involves equity around development opportunity of our coaches and equity in hiring,” McRobert says. “It includes equity in broadcasting, promotion and coverage of our teams.”

Chris Moulton, senior development manager for U of G athletics and student affairs, says athletic facilities have improved hugely since 2005, when he graduated from U of G. “Virtually every facility on this campus has been improved in some way or another.”

Female athletes’ prowess enhances U of G’s reputation and brings national attention to the University’s outstanding athletics program, says McRoberts.

In 2017-18, every women’s team at Guelph qualified for the playoffs. The track and field team dominated the U Sports nationals. The women’s cross-country team has won 12 straight national titles – the most in any U of G varsity sport, male or female.

University alumnae include Olympians and world record holders. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, played basketball at U of G. Sue Scherer, Sylvia Ruegger and Cassie Campbell are great names in Canadian sport.

Campbell says the success of women’s sports at U of G reflects “the leadership of the University. You look at a lot of their female teams, they’ve done so well over the years and that’s because they’ve been paid attention to.”

One of the most recognizable female hockey players in the world, Campbell is the only Canadian hockey player, male or female, to captain a national team to two Olympic gold medals – in Turin, Italy, and in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her team also won an Olympic silver medal in Nagano, and she was captain of the national women’s team from 2001 until her retirement in 2006.

A longtime University supporter, she often talks about the lasting friendships she made on campus and how U of G gave her independence and taught her discipline. Her most memorable coach was Gryphon hockey coach Sue Scherer.

Coaching for women’s sports, says Campbell, should be a priority, notably “highly paid, good-quality coaching, paid positions that allow female coaches, or male coaches who coach the female game, just the allowance and the monies to focus on their sport full-time.”

A 1997 sociology and nutrition graduate, Campbell played Gryphon hockey from 1992 to 1996 and racked up a long list of “firsts.” In her final year, she received the W.F. Mitchell Award for outstanding talent and exceptional leadership and involvement in athletics.

Things have changed since her university years, she says, but not enough.

“We’re still not where we want to be, but I think back to when I grew up and you’d go to a hockey school and you’d be the only girl there. Now, there are a ton of all-female hockey schools and so many young girls playing. They have access to better ice time and better coaching. There are still things that we can push for.

“When you’re talking about athletics, it’s not just male athletics anymore, it’s female athletics, and they need to be talked about on the same platform with the same agendas. The end goal in mind is winning and being the best that they can be in producing great leaders.”

Tessa Hamilton trains for track and field.
Tessa Hamilton trains for track and field.

Wherever athletic training happens on the University of Guelph campus, Tessa Hamilton can be found. She knows what it takes to be a superb athlete.

“Competing and winning is the best feeling in the world,” says Hamilton, an arts and sciences student. This past spring, she won silver in the 300-metre race at the U Sports national track and field championships.

Whether sprinting the track at Alumni Stadium, working on her reflexes in the stadium’s infield, or building muscle, flexibility and reflexes in U of G’s Gryphon Performance Centre, the sprinter and pole vaulter is a fixture in the University’s athletic circles.

“Athletics is a great motivator,” says Hamilton. “It’s excellent for your mental health and helps you get your stresses out. I always feel that my spirits are lifted when I’m out working hard. I’m out here about six times a week training.”

Gryphon rugby player Brodie Schmidt takes full advantage of the Health and Performance Centre.

“I like being strong and muscular,” says the environmental governance student as she loads a bar with 100 pounds, preparing for a series of squats.

“It’s maybe not the ideal social body for a woman, and there’s definitely a stigma attached to it. But it’s amazing the things you can do when you’re strong physically. When you have more strength, you’re more successful in sports and more confident on and off the field. You feel better when you’re strong.”

The University’s female athletes are role models for about 4,000 children and youth in the Junior Gryphons program, McRoberts says. They are just as competitive as their male counterparts, and they work and sacrifice as much.

Through the She’s Got Game campaign, U of G aims to provide more opportunities and set an example for other universities in achieving gender equality.

“The equity around sport hasn’t always been there between the genders,” he says. “I think we know that. We want to be recognized as a program that supports our women athletes the best – the best in developing them, supporting them, graduating them and making them better citizens.”

A main goal of She’s Got Game is to remedy a gender disparity in named scholarships. Currently, female varsity athletes at the University receive $1 in named donor support for athletic scholarships for every $3 donated for named male athletic scholarships. An immediate $250,000 funding boost by the University as part of She’s Got Game will help close that gap, says McRoberts.

A main goal of She’s Got Game is to remedy a gender disparity in named scholarships.

“We identified a need to grow our women’s scholarship support,” adds Moulton. “And that was the initial idea of the She’s Got Game concept. It was to fundraise. We started out with this target of $2.5 million, to try to raise those women’s awards up to a comparable level to the male awards.” Funds raised for women’s athletic scholarships currently stand at about $750,000.

The money is an expression of a larger principle, says Yates. The campaign allows U of G to position itself as a leader in Canadian university athletics, systematically striving for equitable awards for male and female athletes while fostering a larger presence for women in coaching and equal promotion of male and female athletes and teams.

“U of G can, through this initiative, lead the way in building respect for the achievements of female athletes,” Yates says. She adds that, as She’s Got Game has gained more national recognition, many other schools are showing interest in supporting similar initiatives.

“U of G should feel proud to be at the forefront of such an equity initiative at a time when society is concerned about equity issues and is looking for innovative solutions.”

For Sickles-Jarvis, supporting She’s Got Game comes down to a simple truth: “People should care about female athletics.

“In the world today, women are our future. There used to be such a big difference between women and men, but now things are rising, and we are right on par. We need to recognize that, and we need to empower women properly. We need those role models that girls can look up to. When a girl has someone to look up to who is a woman, then it makes it easier to shoot for the stars.”