Getting (and Keeping) Girls in the Game

What happens when you gather passionate advocates for girls in sports, former collegiate and Olympic athletes, women of the #SFGiants Front Office, and Sue Enquist together in one room at AT&T Park?

The first annual Junior Giants Softball Symposium, of course.

By 2020, the Giants Community Fund aims to serve 50% female and 50% male participants through the Junior Giants program. One approach to reaching this goal is getting a softball division up and running in each of the 90 Junior Giants leagues throughout California, Nevada, and Oregon over the next three seasons.

To jumpstart the journey to 50/50 by 2020, the Community Fund hosted its first-ever Junior Giants Softball Symposium, an event that attracted representatives from USA Softball, Major League Baseball, and the California Park & Recreation Society. Other guests included men and women from Junior Giants leagues, local youth softball associations, and numerous organizations that work to empower girls through sport. And did we already mention that Sue Enquist was there?

Therese Viñal, the Giants’ very own in-game host, kicked off the day with an introduction to Junior Giants, followed by a look into the impact that sports has had on her life and her career. Therese shared experiences about growing up involved in youth sports, playing D1 volleyball at the University of Colorado, and how both helped her cultivate the drive to succeed as a female professional in the sports industry.

Therese was later joined by author and journalist Joan Ryan, and together they were the emcee dream team. Other speakers and presenters included Elizabeth Kristin (Legal Aid at Work), Monica Santos Quintana and Shannon Burns (Coaching Corps), Courtney Good (Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative), Frances Lee (Girls on the Run of the Bay Area), and Michelle Lacy (Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District).

Joan facilitated the first panel of the day, which included former female athletes from Cal Athletics. Alleah Laxamana (Cal Softball ‘17), Khala Taylor (Cal Softball 17; Zürich Barracudas), Sara Grauf (former Cal Field Hockey player; SVP of Event Strategy & Services, San Francisco Giants) all shared about their time as student-athletes and spoke on the power of sport in the lives of girls.

Jessie Farmiloe — a former collegiate and professional softball player and coach for the Swiss National Team — gave an emotional testimony to the impact of sports on her life. She credits softball with giving her “an instant family, an instant sense of connection.”

Farmiloe is excited to embark on her next journey as the Softball Commissioner of the Santa Rosa Junior Giants league alongside her friend and Giants alum, Noah Lowry.

“We’re all in this together.”

The next panel included some of the powerful women of the San Francisco Giants. Lisa Pantages (SVP and CFO, San Francisco Giants) expressed that playing softball during her junior high and high school years gave her the confidence and team-building skills to make her a successful manager.

Alyssa Nakken (Giant Race Coordinator, Giants Enterprises), Devon Bridges (Media Relations Intern, San Francisco Giants), and Kelly Larkan-Coover (Junior Giants Committee Chair, Giants Community Fund) shared about the skills, perspectives, and life lessons they learned through involvement in sports.

Koely Kempisty (Softball Coordinator, Youth Programs, Major League Baseball) and Destinee Martinez (Event Coordinator, USA Softball) discussed the impact that softball had on them growing up, and how their different paths led them to where they are today. The two also offered a look at the partnership between MLB and USA Softball, including their current work that gives girls in underrepresented, underserved communities a chance to experience the game of softball.

The event culminated with a presentation by the one-and-only Sue Enquist — former UCLA Softball Head Coach, 11-time National Champion, founder of onesoftball.com, and inspirational powerhouse. Sue shared her experiences of growing up in an era where girls’ sports were often overlooked and overshadowed. Obstacles aside, Sue went on to be a National Champion and to coach countless other champion student-athletes, and she credits that to making young girls aware of their own value.

“Coaching is about being an engineer of belief.”

“I had a coach that said the, ‘the game doesn’t know.’ The game doesn’t know where you live. The game doesn’t know how much money’s in your pocket. The game doesn’t know what color your skin is.”

To say the crowd was captivated would be an understatement. Every individual in that room was entranced by Sue’s energy and passion.

“You may just think, ‘I’m just a little team in San Leandro,’ or ‘I’m just a little team in San Bruno,” whatever it is. You are softball’s first impression for that family. There is no greater job than giving a first great impression. So you’re a game-changer that way.”

If anyone can make you believe in your own ability to make an impact, it’s Sue Enquist.

“There’s no job in this room that doesn’t have an impact on that young girl. Our job in where we are right now is to create the conditions for these young student-athletes to look in the mirror and go, ‘I‘m good enough.’”

It’s safe to say that the Softball Symposium had guests feeling all the feelings — we laughed, we cried, we bonded over our common experiences. Everyone was energized, inspired, and ready to hit the softball field.

And what better way to end the day than a Giants W again the Seattle Mariners? It was a win all-around for baseball and softball.

Want to stay connected? Join the Junior Giants Softball Alliance for updates on news, events, and ways to get involved with Junior Giants Softball.