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Local organization recognizes women's achievements in sports

Earlier this year, WIN for Columbia worked with local gyms to open free entry and classes for 150 women in honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
WIN for Columbia
Earlier this year, WIN for Columbia worked with local gyms to open free entry and classes for 150 women in honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

The Women’s Intersport Network (WIN) for Columbia will be recognizing seven women athletes, mentors and coaches for their involvement and achievements in building equity in women’s sports. Mitzi Clayton, the president of the all-volunteer board, said the luncheon event is especially important this year as women athletes are facing increased stress and other burdens on their mental health.

“What we see is on the field is [them] being great. And it's beyond us to believe that they're struggling internally, but hiding it. And so we fail to recognize the pressures that are on these high achieving athletes," she said.

That's one of the reasons why WIN for Columbia has honored more than 200 athletes with awards such as Young Female Athlete of the Year, Mentor of the Year and with the Inspiration Award. In its newest element, WIN for Columbia has also started recognizing other high school athletic achievements that may not be a finalist in the WIN awards, but earned top rankings—eighth in individual sports and fourth in team sports.

The Kent Heitholt Award is the only WIN award that has ever been presented to men. The rest of the awards are presented to athletes who identify as a woman or girl and/or who are considered by the sport's governing body to be female.

WIN for Columbia started 27 years ago. And its primary event, the luncheon to award women athletes, started one year after its founding.

"Keep in mind 26 years ago, the recognition for women in sports was not very vibrant. It still isn't equally vibrant to our male counterparts today," Clayton said.

Studies show women athletes and sporting events receive less coverage than that of men, and women's sports coverage hasn't grown since 1980. Clayton found women's sports receives such a small portion of airtime on ESPN, it was hard for her to believe.

It's been a movement for 51 years. And but there's a lot of work still to be done. So be a part of the movement that's happening locally.
Mitzi Clayton

"That just told me how important it remains that we, at least in our area of the woods, continue to dedicate our efforts to this luncheon to give recognition to as many females as we possibly can," she said.

This year's luncheon speaker is Krishna Lee, the general manager of the Kansas City Glory, the city's professional women's football team. She was formerly with the University of Missouri Track and Field. It's hosting people like Lee that Clayton said can be integral in inspiring young women to strive to continue their sports and use them as a tool for higher education and scholarships.

"There are still dramatic inequities, in all ways, in terms of sport offerings, and scholarship offerings, and just simple treatment, equitable treatment at championships or on their own campuses, in terms of gear, and just all the different things that come into play, that we need to keep the conversation alive," Clayton added.

This upcoming summer, Clayton said WIN for Columbia is planning an all-day youth leadership and sports day to focus on personal wellness and wellbeing.

Tickets to the Feb. 21 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. luncheon at Columbia College can be bought online. Clayton said WIN is always looking for more membership to continue providing events like these throughout the year to support young athletes.

Kassidy Arena was the Engagement Producer for KBIA from 2022-2023. In her role, she reported and produced stories highlighting underrepresented communities, focused on community outreach and promoting media literacy. She was born in Berkeley, California, raised in Omaha, Nebraska and graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
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