EWU’s women athletes discuss gender equality and their experience playing sports

Back to Article
Back to Article

EWU’s women athletes discuss gender equality and their experience playing sports

By Drew Lawson, Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






In the weeks leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, athletes and coaches from four of  the seven women’s sports at EWU, along with athletic director Lynn Hickey shared their stories and thoughts on women’s athletics with The Easterner.

Basketball

The Easterner talked to EWU head coach Wendy Schuller and junior center Leya DePriest about what athletics have meant to them throughout their lives. Schuller, who is in her 18th year at the helm for the women’s basketball team, said she appreciated the opportunity to play sports growing up because some girls and women before her had to fight for that chance.

“I feel like I’m really fortunate to have grown up in the era I grew up in,” Schuller said. “From the time I was a little kid, I played sports … It was never a question of, ‘would we have a team? Would we have uniforms?’ I didn’t grow up in that era. I feel really lucky that there were women before me and girls before me who fought … so that we would get opportunities. I think it’s unbelievably important, the lessons that sports teaches.”

DePriest also mentioned the lessons that sports taught her growing up.

“It’s taught me how to learn and understand and become more aware of other people’s feelings,” DePriest said. “I feel like I’ve learned to become more well-rounded.”

Schuller and DePriest were both asked about where they’ve seen gender equality in athletics grow in the past few years and where they still feel there is room for growth. DePriest, who closely follows the NBA and WNBA, brought up the gender pay gap.

“I’ve seen a lot of NBA fans thinking that since women are starting to speak out and saying ‘we want equal (pay),’ they think it shouldn’t be fair because we’re ‘not as fun to watch,’” DePriest said. “Just because we’re women (and) we don’t dunk the ball … I don’t think it’s fair. But I think it’s great that players are starting to speak out.”

Schuller brought up media coverage of women’s sports, noting that the press can control what people are hearing about.

“I think the media has a lot to do with it,” Schuller said. “When the media is showing it, people become interested in it. I think there is a responsibility of the media. It’s gotten better, but it’s still a long ways away.”

Schuller added that media coverage could inspire future generations of female athletes.

“When little girls see (women’s sports) being covered on the news and their parents talking about it … maybe it makes them want to play,” Schuller said.

Volleyball

Basketball isn’t the only team to call Reese Court its home. The volleyball team shares the court with the two basketball teams, but averaged far fewer spectators in 2018-19. Sophomore Catelyn Linke immediately brought this up when asked about where she sees a gender difference between men’s and women’s teams.

“The support from the community is the biggest thing,” Linke said. “I think we could do a bigger part of recruiting fans and going more out of our way to get people to our games.”

To narrow this gap, head coach Leslie Flores-Cloud said educating fans about the sport is critical.

“Our sport is a little tricky,” Flores-Cloud said. “You have to know the rules and you have to know what the referee is saying … Understanding our sport is an area that we could work on, to help coach people that don’t know the sport and bring them into loving it as much as we do.”

Flores-Cloud said that she doesn’t see the issue of gender inequality come up as frequently in volleyball when compared to other sports. She said it’s partly because women’s volleyball is more popular in the U.S. than men’s volleyball.

Flores-Cloud said Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, has helped to narrow the gap at the collegiate level. However, she said she sees more distance at the high school level.

“I think that high school is where a lot of the segregation occurs,” Flores-Cloud said. “I think it’s more prevalent. There’s just more male sports in high school than maybe female … I feel like high schools just open it up to as many athletes as they can try to get.”

Sophomore ShaRae Niu echoed this sentiment, saying she’s never felt less than at EWU. However, in high school she saw a gap between men’s and women’s sports.

“In my high school, we never got actual locker rooms,” Niu said. “The only team that got lockers for their sport was football, and the only people that played football were boys.”

Flores-Cloud also discussed the importance of women in sports, including at the coaching and officiating levels.

“I was never coached by a female until I got to college and my assistant coach was a female,” Flores-Cloud said. “Becoming a female that’s able to impact girls at all ages … and being able to see women do this as a career is so rewarding in itself.”

Flores-Cloud shared a story of a game this season in which both head coaches and all officials were women.

“That’s a sense of pride for us,” Flores-Cloud said. “It was something to be celebrated, just because you don’t always see that.”

Track & Field

Women’s sports aren’t exclusively played at Reese Court. Take a walk down the hall into the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse, and you will find the men’s and women’s track and field team practicing every afternoon. As women’s head coach Marcia Mecklenburg concluded practice one day, she told The Easterner that she has found sports to be a way of life.

“My goal in high school was to be one of the greatest throwers in the world,” Mecklenburg said. “Everything that I am now has stemmed from those goals.”

Senior thrower Paris Flenoy said that sports has helped her become a better leader. Later, she talked about her perspective of gender equality in athletics.

“From being little … I never really saw a lot of women in sports,” Flenoy said. “I had a chance to learn more about women and what they’re capable of, and I think society is advocating women now more than they had before.”

Flenoy, like DePriest, talked about the pay gap between men and women athletes.

“We’re always going to be fighting for equal pay,” Flenoy said. “Not just in sports, but society in general.”

Tennis

Marta Heinen of the women’s tennis team has a unique, international perspective on gender equality in sports. Heinen is from Belgium and came to the U.S. to play for EWU. The junior talked about the different ways gender equality is and isn’t discussed overseas.

“Here, it’s a subject that’s brought up way more often,” Heinen said. “We have Title IX training at the beginning of the year. We always try and find that equality and balance between male and female athletes. Back home, it’s more hidden in a way. You know that males get more opportunities, but you don’t ever talk about it, because if you talk about it you’ll get less opportunity.”

Heinen brought up the amount of money male tennis players can win compared to female tennis players when asked where she still sees inequality.

“Prize money … there’s still big differences,” Heinen said. “And salaries. When you look at sports like soccer, men make way more money than women do. At the college level, promotion is great but the response to men’s and women’s sports is different. The spectators usually go see the men way more often.”

Heinen added that she feels EWU has done good work in promoting equality within the athletic department. EWU head coach Dustin Hinson added to this sentiment.

“I don’t see a difference in the way the sports are promoted,” Hinson said. “For example with our team Instagrams … Everything is produced the same way. EWU Athletics is putting out their weekly newsletter, every sport is addressed the same way.”

Hinson talked about how he’s seen the issue of gender equality become more prevalent in the past few years.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who really enjoyed coming out and watching women’s tennis specifically because of the way the points are different from the men’s side,” Hinson said. “I’ve been really happy with the way I’ve seen my team progress and get better regardless of any of those topics. In the past, it was more of an issue … Now that I don’t think it’s brought up as much, which in my mind speaks to the fact that there’s a lot more equality.”

Lynn Hickey

EWU Athletic Director Lynn Hickey has experience as a female athlete, coach and administrator.

As a player, she was named an All-American basketball player for Ouachita Baptist University and was on the U.S. National Team in 1973. Hickey was the women’s basketball head coach at Kansas State from 1979-1984 and Texas A&M from 1984-1994, before going into sports administration. She was the athletic director at University of Texas at San Antonio prior to coming to EWU.

Hickey played sports before Title IX was put into effect in 1972. She told The Easterner that in Oklahoma, where she grew up, girls weren’t allowed to play full court basketball.

“They didn’t believe that girls could go full court,” Hickey said. “So we played half court.”

When Hickey went to a track meet in eighth grade, the farthest distance girls were allowed to run was a quarter mile. “Girls can’t do a half mile,” was the explanation given in those days.

Hickey talked about the stigma and reputation of being a competitive female pre-Title IX.

“The idea that you could play the role of a female, become married, have a family and be an athlete,” Hickey said. “In a lot of places in the world … no, that doesn’t work. There was a connotation that if you were an athlete and were very competitive that there was something missing about you.”

At first, there was resistance toward Title IX. Hickey told a story of what the superintendent of the school she was working at told her when it first came into effect.

“He came in and said, ‘I don’t believe in Title IX’,” Hickey said. “‘I will never pay you or treat you like I do the football coach.’”

Hickey developed a deeper understanding of Title IX when it began to be more strictly enforced in athletics during the late 1970s; she said that’s when everything changed. Hickey talked about the milestones she was able to reach personally after the mandate, and emphasized the opportunities it brought for women all over the country.

“It changed the world for people like me,” Hickey said. “At Texas A&M, I was the first female ever to eat at the training table for student athletes. I was the first female to sit at a 12th Man Foundation meeting, which is their big fundraising group. If that law had not been passed, people like me and millions of young girls that want to play sports, the opportunity would’ve really been closed. Imagine telling Venus Williams or some of these superstars that we’ve got now, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t play. You’re a girl.’”

Hickey also became the second female to sit on the committee that selects the men’s basketball Final Four and was the only Division I female athletic director in the state of Texas during her tenure at UTSA. Hickey is proud of these accomplishments, but also noted that this shows there aren’t enough women at the administrative levels in sports.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go,” Hickey said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email