Female Empowerment in Athletics Begins in Bethany

DREW VON SCIO

Sarah Fuller trotted out onto the field at Vanderbilt Stadium on December 12 with one goal in mind: make the extra point.  While Fuller [presumably] knew she had an opportunity to make even more history for women in sports. Fuller remained calm and collected as she went through her typical routine, with four steps backwards and two steps to the left. Her friends and family were in the audience, hands covering their face, with a rush of emotions going through their mind. With the world watching once again, she made more history by being the first female athlete to score in a Power 5 college football game.

Fuller has had a major impact on female athletes all over the United States and the world as the fight for equality in sports continues, including here at Bethany. Two women’s basketball players here at Bethany College, Makenzee Mason and Abbey Dobbins, have started a movement to shine the light on females and their sports to put them on the same level as men.

“Change4Females” was created as a way to empower females, including female athletes, and provide them with a voice to the public. Women endure a lot of criticism and inequality on a daily basis in a variety of elements including the classroom, office, or athletics.
 

 “Our goals for this movement are pretty broad. We want to be a positive voice for all females,” stated Makenzee Mason. We want to share their stories and use our platform to bring light to the hardships that us females go through. Specifically, for athletics, we want to empower females’ dreams and aspirations and help female athletes get the respect they deserve.”

On January 21, a high school basketball reporter based out of Columbus, Ohio tweeted about a very intense matchup between the best girls’ basketball team in Indiana and the second-best team in Ohio. An unidentified individual decided to take a shot at these young women with an asinine claim that girls’ basketball is not a sport and stated 70-year-old people at his local YMCA were better players. It was at this moment that Mason and Dobbins knew they had to do something.

Mason and Dobbins immediately responded with statements of their own to the individual, but the anger was enough to ignite the flame and create change.  

“When everything went down on Twitter, it was frustrating to see someone try and belittle a high school organization,” said Abbey Dobbins. “Knowing all the hard work and time those players put in just have someone downgrade their performance. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion but with that being said, there’s a fine line between right and wrong. It’s not okay to rip away young athletes’ confidence all because of gender.”

As a result, “Change4Females” was created and popularity spread like wildfire. With so many different options of how the movement could grow, Mason and Dobbins had trouble figuring out where to really get started. With the Bethany community being strong and close to each other, there was no hesitation to reach out from multiple members of the athletic department, including their coach Brian Sansom. Since the movement has started, Sansom has been with them every step of the way.

“The athletic department here at Bethany has been so supportive. From day one, Coach Sansom has bought in to what we want to do,” added Dobbins. “He always offers a helping hand when needed and also makes sure we are on top of our school work.”

The support from Bethany’s athletic department does not just stop with Coach Sansom. Sansom’s wife and sports information director, Erikka, along with Director of Student Athlete Success Meighan Julbert and head baseball coach Justin Thomas. Having all of these mentors provides Mason and Dobbins with a plethora of resources to turn to when needed.

Upon creation of “Change4Females,” Mason and Dobbins decided that it was best for the goals of the movement to be broad in effort to avoid excluding those who may not be athletes. However, there are goals in the movement dedicated specifically to athletics.

Mason and Dobbins have already began working on events to highlight the stories of female athletes. Two weeks into their movement was February 3 which is National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD). To celebrate, an event was held to highlight female athletes, female coaches, dads of female athletes, and anyone who was empowering a female athlete. They even went as far as giving away a shirt with their lioness logo on it to incentivize people to participate and shout out athletes while finding a way to get their name out to a wider range of people.

“This day helped us get our name out to the public a little more, and we had the opportunity to shout out some amazing athletes,” added Mason.

These women have even went as far as creating merchandise to spread their movement even further. They partnered with Crimson Creek Boutique LLC and Custom Print Apparel, LLC to support two small businesses. In both black and white, a variety of apparel can be purchased with the orange lioness logo to promote female equality in athletics or even simply female equality in general. Knowing the targeted audience of primarily college-aged students, the costs of all items are relatively inexpensive.

Merchandise and the event on NGWSD are just the tip of the iceberg for what Mason and Dobbins want to accomplish. These two motivated and driven young women are set on this movement being a long-term project of slowly but surely pushing for gender equality. The ongoing pandemic currently restricts them especially as they finish up their basketball season but events will grow exponentially once levels of COVID-19 are low enough that life returns to the way it was before March 2020.

“We hope to one day be able to hold events like raffles, having guest speakers, going to different schools and talking, etc.” expressed Mason.

Connecting “Change4Females” to the work done by Sarah Fuller, both Dobbins and Mason are in complete support of the work Fuller has done to close the gender gap in sports. However, there has been a lot of criticism towards Fuller. Ranging from not being able to kick the ball far and resorting to squib kick to only being used as a publicity stunt for a winless football team, it has been very brutal on social media for athletes with as big of a platform of Fuller. The criticism she endures is just one of many examples of the gender gap in sports.

Despite this criticism, the problem does not stop there. Fuller, a goalkeeper on the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, was almost unheard of prior to kicking for the Vanderbilt football team. Certain sports in the United States at all levels receive barely any media coverage, and most women’s sports are below all of the male sports. This situation is part of what “Change4Females” wants to fix.

“I think what Sarah Fuller accomplished is awesome,” said Dobbins. “However, I can’t understand why do female athletes have to be a part of male sports to get recognition? Why wasn’t she recognized as being a fantastic soccer player? Our goal of this movement is to allow male and female athletes to get the same level of recognition when it’s due.”

While “Change4Females” is still in the process of growing, these two young women deserve a lot of credit for their dedication and hard work with creating this movement and the work they will continue to put in.

“I hope to be able to make an impact on females everywhere, small or large,” said Mason. “Whether that be advice, basketball help, tips, etc. I am in this for the long haul, and I could not be more thankful for the platform Abbey and I are building.”

“To all young females: be the hardest worker in the room, reiterated Dobbins.” “Remember that there is always someone better than you. Be able to take constructive criticism, and grind it out when you are tired! Set your goals high, and keep your chin higher. The opportunities will be endless.”