Yellow Springs High School

Yellow Springs High School cross country team members Reini Brickman, left, Lois Miller and Paloma Wiggins have organized “Simply Women,” a 5k run/walk for women and girls to take place on Saturday, Aug. 8, at the high school. The event aims to raise funds for the girls cross country team and to raise awareness about the importance of girls participating in sports.

A run for awareness, support

Paloma Wiggins loves to run. She likes the feel of motion, and the way that running makes her worries fall away.

“I feel better when I run,” she said in an interview last week. “It’s a good way to decompress.”

But Wiggins, an incoming freshman at Yellow Springs High School, almost never found out that she loves to run. And she certainly never considered joining the school’s cross country team. Running was too hard, she thought, and she wasn’t good enough to join a team.

Now a member of that team, Wiggins has her friend Lois Miller to thank. An avid runner, Miller urged Wiggins to join, assuring her that she didn’t have to start out good, and that runners become better with effort.

Wiggins feels lucky to have a friend who encouraged her to join the team. Most girls don’t, and consequently most don’t take part in organized sports. While more than 30 years have passed since Title IX mandated that schools provide sports teams for girls as well as boys, statistics show that girls still don’t participate in sports as much as boys do, even in Yellow Springs. The legal obstacles may be gone, but social and emotional ones remain, these young women believe.

To raise awareness of the importance of sports for young women, and to build support for girls sports in Yellow Springs, these young women and their friend, YSHS senior Reini Brickman, organized “Simply Women,” a 5k run/walk for women and girls. The event will take place Saturday, Aug. 8, at 9:15 a.m., beginning and ending at the high school. The event costs $15 to enter, and on-site registration and check-in will begin at 8 a.m. the day of the race. All proceeds will benefit YS Girls Running, a newly formed organization begun by these local young women.

The idea for a run began with Brickman, a senior and the captain of the girls cross country team, who’s beginning her second year at YSHS. A year ago, when she first came to the school and joined the team, she didn’t know anyone and found it difficult to feel connected to the other girls in cross country. She doesn’t want other girls to have that experience, Brickman said, and hopes to promote team-building activities for girls.

Girls seem to need those activities more than boys do, Brickman said, because they have less familiarity with how to function as a team. For instance, in cross country, the boys tend to run together as a group, while the girls, who have different levels of ability, tend to run separately, contributing to a sense of being alone.

The numbers of girls in local sports seems to be declining, according to all three girls, and one girls spring sport, softball, was canceled this year because of low numbers. According to Brickman, last year’s cross country team had so few girls that they couldn’t compete as a team. In several school board meetings in recent months, YSHS Principal John Gudgel has raised his concern about the decline in numbers.

Part of the problem, the young women believe, is that because YSHS has such a small number of students to begin with, fewer girls take part in athletics than at most schools. And because the numbers on teams are small, the girls who take part can feel isolated and drop out. The small numbers can intensify girls’ feelings of isolation, and lead to a downward spiral of participation, Wiggins said.

Girls can also get dispirited because so few community members come out to support them, the young women said. While boys games are most often scheduled during evening hours, girls games tend to take place during the dinner hour or before people get off work, and only a handful of supporters, usually parents, show up.

Part of the goal for the 5k, according to “team mom” Karen Crist, who is Paloma’s mother, is “to let the community know that it matters if they come out. They may not know it matters.”

While they feel little support from the community, the girls on the cross country team feel support from the boys on the team, and for that they are appreciative. For instance, they said, those who have already finished a race will gather at the finish line to cheer for those who are just coming in, and that support helps tired runners do their best.

As a mother, Crist sees that her daughter reaps many benefits from her participation in sports.

“Sports informs the rest of life,” Crist said. “It makes Paloma resilient, and she learns how to confront mistakes and defeats and go forward. To me, you need that your whole life.”

As well as raising awareness about the importance of girls in sports, the event’s organizers hope that the 5k run raises a small amount of cash. With that, they hope to purchase bags and warm-up suits for the girls on the cross country and track teams. While other teams have such gear, the Yellow Springs girls sometimes warm up in pajamas and hoodies.

“We don’t want to feel like a joke,” Brickman said.

To Crist, the girls are seeking legitimacy for their considerable efforts.

“They want a team identity,” she said.

For online information, go to www.ysgirlsrunning.com.

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