The rise of female athletics on Nantucket.
When Jami Lower stepped onto the field to coach her daughter’s youth lacrosse team five years ago, the scene looked straight out of Bad News Bears. “I walked onto the field and there were fourteen great girls who really needed some leadership,” she says. “The first year was kind of hodgepodge…we didn’t win a game.” But the ragtag team continued to improve, more girls joined each season, and this past year, Lower and her team went undefeated.
The success of the girls youth lacrosse program exemplifies a trend in Nantucket’s youth sports today. Young girls are now getting the opportunity to play sports that were previously unavailable to them until high school. In some cases, as with hockey, all-girls teams weren’t available at all on Nantucket. And these young girls are responding to these new opportunities with gusto. “The numbers have literally quadrupled,” Lower says. “Girls youth sports are growing at an exponential rate.”
Along with youth lacrosse, new programs have been introduced for girls in swimming, tennis and basketball. These programs are serving as launchpads for girls when they enter high school. “You have to bridge the gap between youth sports and high school sports,” Lower explains. “We want to achieve the same success we’ve had with the lacrosse program with other sports that haven’t been made available to girls.”
Such was the case with hockey. Until last year, girls interested in strapping on the pads and hitting the ice were forced to play on a co-ed team. Upon entering high school, however, many of these girls quit, switching sports because their only option was to join the boys’ team, where the physicality of the game could put them in danger. That’s beginning to change now, thanks to the dedicated work of Nantucketers like David Pekarcik, who organized a girls’ youth program last season.
“This all began with asking the question, ‘Where do we want to see our daughters end up?’” says Pekarcik, whose daughter plays on his team. In the past, Nantucket girls wishing to pursue their hockey aspirations were forced to attend school on the mainland. “Unfortunately, many families on the island can’t afford to do that,” Pekarcik says. “So our ultimate goal is to roll this club program into a high school program, but we need to show that there is enough interest for NHS’s athletic director to start the team.” By all accounts, the interest is most definitely there. At the end of last season, Pekarcik had between fourteen and twenty-four girls of all skill levels hitting the ice for weekly practices.
The benefits of youth sports have long been known, including learning about the importance of teamwork, the power of practice, and the life lessons around winning and losing. Nantucket’s athletes, however, receive an additional experiential layer resulting from sports participation. Traveling off island as a unit, they forge lifelong friendships, learn patience, and develop maturity as well as a sense of independence. As coaches like Jami Lower and David Pekarcik have witnessed up close, when it comes to girls reaping these rewards on Nantucket, all we need to do is give them a shot.