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COLUMN: Invest in women's sports... our girls are watching

This past weekend, you couldn’t find an empty seat at the Refined Fool Sports pub amid boisterous fans crowded around the big-screen.

And over at the Imperial City Brew House, the live band actually took a break during their St. Patrick's Day concert, so patrons could watch the big game.

But it wasn’t the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup finals; it was a live-stream of Lambton College’s women’s basketball team, making history at their first-ever national championships.

“The support was unbelievable,” said college president at CEO Rob Kardas, who was with the team in Lloydminster, Alberta, for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championships, but followed the hometown support on social media.

“It was sort of an extension of what we saw in the OCAA Final Four,” he said of the team’s first-ever provincial championship win on home court earlier this month. “The athletic centre at the college was packed that weekend — it was sold out.”

Sold out crowds were on hand this month at Lambton College where the women's basketball team continued its historic run, hosting the OCAA Final Four. Lambton College Athletics

The Lambton women fell just short of gold in Saturday’s finals, but the impact of their historic season is one for the books.

“When you looked at the crowds, they were filled with young girls watching,” said Kardas. "And that just warms my heart, because the role modelling that our student athletes can do for them is next to none.”

Meanwhile, just across the border, a bus full of local female hockey players and families made their way to another historic event — the first Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Dozens of local youngsters, including these Sarnia Jr. Lady Sting players, made their way to Detroit on the weekend for a history-making PWHL game. Submitted photo

Dozens of area players including many from the Sarnia Jr. Lady Sting joined a record-setting crowd of more than 13,700 fans; a fitting followup to December’s sold-out, thrilling women’s Rivalry Series game hosted in Sarnia in December thanks to a successful Tourism Sarnia-Lambton bid — and a testament to the growing popularity of women's sports.

Just last week, Jennifer Love, the Sarnia Sting’s athletic therapist, invited dozens of young girls to an event that featured a panel of women showcasing their unique roles in sport — beyond just playing the game. The small crowd of girls had plenty of questions about what it’s like to take a traditionally male-oriented career path. 

Who knows – maybe the next Meghan Hunter was there.

A group of young female hockey players raise their hands during a Q&A with a panel of women working in the sports industry, as part of a recent event hosted by the Sarnia Sting's Jennifer Love. Shanna Rumble photo

And, at the same time, more female skaters than ever before were on hand for the Little NHL’s 50th anniversary tournament in Markham, including Aamjiwnaang’s Madison Maness who had no trouble keeping up with her all-boys’ team.

All of this should be enough to showcase the endless benefits of investing in girls’ and women’s sports. Yet, we know there’s still work to do.

A recent city report pointed to a lack of adequate change room spaces for young athletes at Sarnia’s flagship arena — particularly women and girls.

“They’re getting opportunities to play at more elite levels, particularly on [boys’] teams and right now, they’re being put into what we would describe as inappropriate spaces — either referee change rooms and other smaller closet based spaces in the building with no proper change room,” Stacey Forfar recently told council of the much needed upgrades at Progressive Auto Sales Arena. “If they get a toilet and a sink, that’s lucky.”

Council unanimously approved an additional $170,000 in contingency funding to support a new dressing room space, but it’s long overdue.

A packed house at Clearwater Arena in January for the Girls' International Silver Stick Finals. Journal photo

“It’s so exciting to watch — these girls, they have something to call their own, and somewhere for them to look up to,” said St. Clair Township Mayor Jeff Agar, who regularly takes in local games in Mooretown, where half a dozen girls teams have qualified for the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association’s Provincial Championships next month in Toronto.

“They’re playing against major cities and centres that sure are a lot bigger than little old Mooretown,” he said. “And it’s just great to see.”

So — let’s keep packing our gymnasiums and hockey arenas; change the channel to women’s sports at local bars and restaurants; and encourage your elected officials to invest in adequate accommodations for them. Because, let's face it: everyone wins when we invest in women's sports.

And our girls are watching.

Tara Jeffrey is the editor of The Sarnia Journal. You can contact her at [email protected].











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