June 13, 2012

New group focuses on women’s health, well being

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Improving the health and well being of women throughout Southern Illinois is the goal of a new non-profit organization spearheaded by faculty and staff at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The goal of the Women’s Intersport Network (WIN) for Southern Illinois is “educating and empowering girls and women in Southern Illinois through sport and physical activity” and the group is planning special events, programming and initiatives.  The group originated from discussions between Bobbi Knapp, assistant kinesiology professor, and Jennifer “Jenn” Sewell, associate head softball coach for the University. 

Sewell was a student in Knapp’s sport studies class. As they discussed women in sports and physical activity and the many positive effects, they pondered similar women’s organizations in Missouri and the success of those groups.  Sewell learned more by talking to Holly Hesse, a friend who is the head softball coach at Missouri State University in Springfield, the site of a similar successful program.

As word of their plan spread, women and men from throughout the region agreed to help, including by serving on the group’s board of directors and advisory board.

Loosely patterned on similar Missouri programs in Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia, WIN for Southern Illinois is initially focusing on building membership, fundraising and planning special programs and events that help fulfill the group’s mission and goals, Knapp said.

They are taking a multi-tier approach that begins with developing a better awareness of sports and physical activities available to girls and women in the Southern Illinois region, Knapp said.  Organizers want WIN to build networks offering resources that promote the lifetime value of sports and fitness.  WIN also plans to enhance awareness of sports and physical activity opportunities and introduce women to them, publicize the value of such activities, and recognize the participation, contributions and achievements of girls and women in sports and physical activity, Knapp said.

“WIN is a great program because it has an integrated approach.  It serves as a resource and it builds, creates, recognizes and rewards sport and physical activity in women.  It’s a synergetic effect,” Sewell said.  “It is also community-based and that’s important.  This is a fantastic way to encourage Southern Illinois girls and women to get involved.  We want to help them learn about the opportunities that already exist and provide more opportunities as well as recognizing women for their involvement in sport and physical activity.”

Knapp said the many proven benefits of physical activity and sport for women are best summed up in “Her Life Depends on It:  Sport, Physical Activity and the Health and Well-Being of American Girls,” a 2004 publication from The Women’s Sports Foundation.  The report notes a number of health risks women face, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, tobacco or drug use, sexual risks, teen pregnancy, depression, suicide, problematic weight loss behavior and more.  Yet it also cites proven connections between sport and physical activity and reducing these risks.

“There are many positive social, psychological, health, leadership potential and other outcomes when women are involved in sport and physical activity,” Knapp said.

Knapp said it’s a happy coincidence that this organization is starting up as the 40th anniversary of Title IX approaches on June 23.  She notes that since the gender equity law went into effect, the number of girls participating in sports has gone from 1 in 27 in 1972 to the current 1 in 2.5.

The organization will mark the anniversary with “Celebrating Title IX with WIN” from 10 a.m. to noon on June 23 at Evergreen Park in Carbondale. The event, free and open to everyone, will include a multi-generational group of speakers with presentations for all ages.  In addition, a new registered student organization at the University, Quiddich, will demonstrate the Harry Potter sport involving balls and brooms.

The group also is planning “WIN for Life” on July 21 at the Student Recreation Center.  Women and girls of all ages are welcome to attend and explore a variety of programs and sporting activities, including fitness for seniors, psychological skills techniques, and blood pressure, heart rate and fitness assessments.  There will be a variety of physical activities too, including yoga, hoops, self-defense, softball, basketball, rugby introduction and golf.  At the more intense end of the sports spectrum, participants can check out the climbing wall, spinning and CrossFit.  There will also be group activities including folk dance, zumba and team building.  Admission will be $10. 

For more information about WIN for Southern Illinois, visit the website at www.WINsoill.com, “like” WIN for Southern Illinois on Facebook, email bknapp@siu.edu or call 618/453-3324.