Playing it Forward
Since she arrived at MCLA more than two decades ago, Assistant Athletic Director Dot Houston has worked to promote girls' sports and physical activity.
Recently, she helped to evaluate applications to award $40,000 to girls' sport-based programs in the state of Pennsylvania through the Women's Sport Foundation's "Go Girl Go!" grant program, sponsored by The Hershey Company.
Houston (right) has been involved with the Women's Sport Foundation for more than 15 years. The organization combines the promotion of the development and funding of girls' sports and physical activity with education. Directed toward girls in the third through eighth grades, the aim is to reduce risky behaviors that threaten their health and social advancement.
"It's been rewarding. It's fun to see what other groups are doing across the country," she said. "A lot of it is grassroots and for under-privileged groups in the city or in areas where physical activity and nutrition is not a part of the girls' daily lives. These non-profits and groups help combine both of them through organizing events."
Her work with girls in sports started with a local clinic in 1989.
"We had given a small clinic to the local North Adams girls' basketball league. Since then, it's just expanded exponentially not only from one clinic to three to four clinics. We're involving as many MCLA student athletes - mostly women, but some men - to help with that. It's become more of a day-long instead of an hour-long clinic."
Each year for the past 21 years Houston has spearheaded MCLA's "Girls and Women in Sports Day," which brings together girls from throughout the Berkshires and beyond for sports clinics, activities, games and celebration.
Some of the girls who attend the clinics have never been exposed to higher education. Others are provided an opportunity to participate in sports that are new to them. The varied athletic offerings include soccer, basketball, golf and volleyball. "So if we can peak their interest in a clinic, then that's great," Houston said.
Helping out at these events allows MCLA's student athletes to give back, Houston said.
"I'm always trying to let them that it's important to pay it forward. They have a gift to be a mentor and a student leader. The girls look up to them. So, if we can provide an opportunity through a clinic situation, this is something the student athletes are comfortable with. They can show the girls how important being healthy is and being actively involved on a team and the benefits that will carry them through their lifetime. The little kids may not know it at that point, bu tone day they will pay it back and give clinics for other little girls. It's a cyclical thing."
MCLA students enjoy their work at the clinics so much that many of them become involved with three to 10 such projects a year, according to Houston.
"One of the nice things is, we have student athletes who are in education majors and will become teachers. This is a wonderful opportunity for them or those on a coaching minor tract so that they are leading the discussion with the girls. That gives them real-life experience, meeting with the girls and talking about the issues they may face when they become teachers and coaches in the future. We also have business majors. Within that tract, we have event management, so those students - not necessarily athletes - will help us organize the event so they can do some real-life planning and see it come to fruition."