It started on the playground four years ago. “Girls don’t play sports.” That’s what Erin Livatino, a 5 year old kindergartner, was told by a group of first grade boys playing soccer at her elementary school.
She told her parents the story that night. At the same time, her dad, Evanston Township High School Athletic Director Chris Livatino, was trying to understand the gap he was seeing in the sports participation numbers between boys and girls at the school and the drop-off in participation for a lot of girls once they reached middle school.
A few months later Chris Livatino got into a deeper discussion about the same topic with an ETHS parent, Liz Brieva, mother of seven children in Evanston and former ETHS standout athlete, and a plan was hatched to increase girls’ participation in sports in Evanston.
The concept was simple—use high school female athletes to introduce girls to a wider variety of sports earlier in life while instilling pride and confidence in being an athlete. And, it’s growing.
Last fall, ETHS hosted the fourth annual Girls Play Sports Festival for over 225 fifth grade girls in Evanston.
Last month, ETHS athletes taught their 100th Girls Play Sports clinic to fourth and fifth graders at participating District 65 schools.
Last summer, ETHS hosted a “sold out” Girls Only Sports Camp for middle schoolers.
But with every new program comes an even greater demand to sustain the girls’ interest and appetite as they grow older. That, Livatino says, is where the idea for Team GPS was born – to create a comprehensive year round opportunity that exposes middle school girls to two new sports each month.
Team GPS also engages these future leaders in discussion topics about critical topics that face young women today. The goal is to open up their mind to the possibilities that exist in sport while giving them the critical thinking skills to better navigate their future as strong, confident women. Brieva says, “We are not just trying to build better athletes. We are trying to use athletics to build better women.”
At the Team GPS monthly sessions, ETHS student-athletes teach the skills and drills while Brieva coordinates the discussion topics. Often times, Northwestern student-athletes will join in the fun by participating alongside the middle schoolers or teaching the discussion topic lesson for the day.
So far this school year, Team GPS has taught monthly units pairing basketball with lacrosse, soccer with cross country and volleyball with track and field while diving into deeper discussions on topics such as how to foster stronger relationships/friendships, the pitfalls and opportunities of social media and better ways to manage health and nutrition.
Team GPS has also hosted its first Adventure in Sports by partnering with Northwestern to provide all Team GPS participants with a free ticket and meal voucher for the NU vs Iowa Women’s Volleyball match in November. Over 50 different girls have participated in at least one of the programs offered thus far and the vast majority of them are repeat participants and Team GPS members.
This month, Team GPS is teaching tennis and badminton with a discussion topic on bullying. The remaining sessions are Sunday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 18 and 25 at ETHS. The cost of this month’s program is $75 for Team GPS members ($95 for non-members).
Remaining monthly sessions this school year will teach softball and bowling on Feb 8, 15 and 22; gymnastics, cheerleading and dance on March 1, 8, 15, and 22; swimming and water polo on April 19, and 26 and May 3, and golf on May 17, with discussion topics on body image, drugs/alcohol, psychology of sport and career exploration.
A non-profit organization, Girls Play Sports is committed to ensuring that cost is never an obstacle to participation, so one-third of the openings each month are reserved for girls in need of financial assistance. To achieve this goal thus far, Girls Play Sports has been fortunate to receive donations from community members and local businesses but more assistance is needed for Team GPS to achieve its goal of guaranteeing spots for low income families.
To learn more about Team GPS, register for an upcoming session, or make a donation to sponsor a girl, please visit TeamGPS.org or call 847-570-9165.