SARA TOTH – EDITOR
Tara VanDerveer and Nancy Lopez are known the world over as legends in their fields — VanDerveer as the winningest coach in Division I women’s college basketball history, and Lopez as a three-time LPGA champion. And at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 20 at the Double Eagle Cafe at the Chautauqua Golf Club, the two will participate in a Coalition of Chautauqua County Women and Girls forum, co-sponsored by Chautauqua Institution, focused on “Women and Girls in Sports.”
The Coalition has been holding forums dedicated to various women’s issues since 2014; Jane Cleaver Becker said the idea for a program dedicated to women and girls in sports first started percolating last year, but COVID-19 pushed the event to 2021. VanDerveer, Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women’s Basketball at Stanford University and a life-long Chautauquan, was on board from the outset, but a happy coincidence led to Lopez’s involvement. Chautauquan Richard Smucker had helped organize a golf tournament to benefit UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown — and Lopez’s involvement in that tournament.
“It kind of just came together that we had these two absolute stars in their fields,” said Becker, a founding member and chair for the Coalition. “They are legends in the work that they have done, and the stars just aligned here. It was our opportunity to have a panel explore issues that we think are interesting and important for us to think about.”
Becker pointed to numerous stories in the headlines about the issues women face in the world of sports as examples of topics to be covered in Tuesday’s “broad, broad discussion.” Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka faced significant backlash for declining to do press at the French Open in May, ultimately pulling out of that tournament, and Wimbledon, entirely; and amid both criticism and support, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the games’ history when the Tokyo Olympics begin this week.
“These issues are extremely important,” Becker said. “These will definitely be some of the questions to be asked, and I think it poses some interesting dialogue to be had.”
Broader issues at play, Becker said, are ones of access and opportunities.
“That’s across all sports, and providing opportunities for all girls, regardless of their economic status, regardless of ability,” she said. “(It’s important) that we provide opportunities for all girls to have access to sports when they’re young. That’s becoming more challenging, because of limitations that are sometimes being put on schools about how much they can provide.”
Also on deck for the conversation is how young women can make sports their career, if they so choose.
“Where are the opportunities? Who are the mentors? Who are the folks who are opening doors?” Becker said. “And these two women have been doing that work, which is wonderful. They’re going to be talking about how to support women and girls who want to pursue this, even as an avocation. And if they chose this as a vocation, how do we promote that? When they want this to be their career, how do we support that, and make that easier to happen?”
The Chautauqua Golf Club is offering shuttles up to the Double Eagle at 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, leaving from the Main Gate Welcome Center, and then back down to the Welcome Center after the event has concluded. There is a $10 suggested donation for the event; all proceeds directly benefit the work the Coalition does in Chautauqua County. The Coalition is an all-volunteer organization, with hundreds of members across the county. The focus, Becker said, is to provide opportunities for all Chautauqua County women and girls to thrive.
That work is divided into two areas. One is the public events dedicated to myriad issues, including Tuesday’s forum with VanDerveer and Lopez. The other is the training Coalition volunteers undergo to become coaches for underserved women in the county.
“We have several populations that we coach, but our focus is on providing them support and providing them a sounding board, someone to be there to be a support to help them think through issues that they may be facing as a parent, or as a student, or as an employee,” Becker said. “We’re building a support system for women during a period of their time where they could use just that little extra something. It’s truly a great opportunity.”