Volume 94, Issue 73

Thursday, February 1, 2001


Western hits the road

WAA provides a foothold - Women's sport gaining recognition

Disillusioned Leaf fans should chill

WAA provides a foothold - Women's sport gaining recognition

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

What you do at university can shape your life. So, if sports are what you do, they may also define who you are. If this is true, then it is necessary to continue to support sport beyond university.

Support and recognition has never been lacking for male athletes and sports teams at Western. Women, on the other hand, have had to create their own version of Western's W club, called the Women's Athletic Alumni Association.

The group was founded in 1987 as the equivalent of the W club, which acts as a connection between male athletic teams and alumni support.

Helen Luckman, now a WAA executive, was the vice-chair of Intercollegiate Athletics at Western in 1986 when she started working in the alumni office.

"It occurred to me there was a W club for male athletes, an organization for all males who had received first colours, but there was nothing for women. I sought out the names and addresses of past female athletes and held a meeting to spark interest in developing the WAA. So in 1987 it began – and here we are," she explained.

The WAA is worthy of recognition because their work to ensure continuation of financial support to women's sports teams.

Bob Vigars, head coach of Western's cross-country team, newest member and first the male member of the WAA, said he recognizes the boundaries female sports have had to transcend in order to get this far.

"Women's sport was treated as a second-class citizen in the past. What's changed is that today there is less gender discrimination – but that discrimination has been replaced by sport discrimination. I think the turning point came when women finally decided they must take charge of their own destiny and not wait for others to do it for them," he said.

This is where the WAA fits in.

"It made sense for me to support such an organization. I have been coaching women athletes for 30 years now and I have had a lot of joy and great satisfaction doing so," Vigars said.

The visibility of the WAA is not always overt. There are things like an annual award presented at Homecoming each year to the woman alumni who is recognized as a role model and contributor to developing women in sport, whether it be in competition, coaching or academics.

Vigars identified the WAA as alumni trying to lend more support to women in sport because of the lack of support they have had in the past. "You cannot always rely on the papers and media to lend significance to your event, so advocates like the WAA are needed. They're just trying to recognize and promote women's sport at Western. Men's sport and the W club have been around for decades promoting the same ideas for years."

In her speech on behalf of the WAA at a recent gathering of coaches and captains of women's sports at Western, Helena Smith-Prichard, president of the WAA who graduated from Western in 1973, explained how the WAA is looking at equity in terms of sport and team sport at both the regional and national levels.

"Our primary mandate is to support women's athletics at Western by going to games, giving teams more exposure. We seek help in the recruiting of athletes to Western and help people to stay connected to Western through a newsletter," she said.

The WAA is backed by the university, represented by the hospitality of the Davenport family. Honorary President, Josette Davenport has been hosting an annual event to recognize women's sports teams at Western for the past five years.

Marg McMurray, a WAA executive, grounded her support for the WAA in her gainful experiences with sports both at Western and in life. "I met all my friends through sport. I wouldn't be me if it hadn't been for sport," she said.

"The WAA serves to represent Western women, help them, and support them. We just hope this can be a homebase for Western women athletes. Eventually we want a wall of fame, but we need alumni support. That is why it is important we connect with students now who will remember us when they leave so they will later lend their support too," McMurray said.

"By building a base of members who will try to offer help with initiatives, we are trying to say women's sports are just as important as men's – all sports are important, not one more than any other," Vigars said.

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