ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Tuesday some 500 young women attending 23 middle and high schools in Cattaraugus, Allegany and Steuben counties will come to the university for "Leading the Way," a day-long celebration of the achievements made by girls and women in sports.

Each will get the chance to participate in three 45-minute sports clinics led by Bona women on Division III basketball, cross country/track, soccer, lacrosse, tennis or swimming teams or who play club volleyball or rugby. Other options include a fitness challenge, strength conditioning and nutrition given by the university's physical education and sports studies majors, rock climbing lessons given by the Seneca Battalion ROTC and yoga lessons given by the YMCA of the Twin Tiers.

After lunch, the athletes will be invited to ask questions of the university's women athletes during a panel discussion. And, if their schedules allow, they can stay an extra hour for tours by the admissions office or for more rock climbing.

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The event is the university's annual contribution to a nationwide observance known as National Girls and Women in Sports Day or NGWSD,  largely celebrated throughout the nation on Feb. 1. 

St. Bonaventure University has sponsored an NGWSD event almost annually since the late 1990s as a day "for these young women to be celebrated for who they are, the positivity and optimism that’s involved in a sport and also to identify that there has been a gender gap and try to close it,” said Dr. Claire Watson, director of physical education and sports studies.

The program is conducted by one of the university’s associate professors of physical education, Dr. Paula Scraba, who pointed to the importance of Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, quoting:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Scraba added, “We get the theme from [the foundation] every year. It’s to commemorate that without this legislation, there would be no Women in Sports Day. Some people have asked, ‘Why don’t we have a Men in Sports Day?’ Well, it’s because they’ve always had it. They never had to be excluded.”

In the 1990s, Dr. Mary Beth Miller, a previous physical education department chair at the university, led the SBU women's sports day, according to Scraba. Miller left in 2005, and the university did not sponsor an event in 2005 or 2006. Scraba picked up the torch in 2007 after she returned to the university as a fulltime employee. It was that year that President Emeritus Sister Margaret Carney, O.S.F., then the dean and director of the Franciscan institute, asked her to get the celebratory day up and running again.

For the annual event at SBU, participating schools bring athletes and non-athletes. Steve Anastasia, Olean High School’s athletic director, said, “We’re taking a mix. Hopefully, we’re going to get the athletes to guide the non-athletes. We try to get a mix so they can get involved. Sports can do a lot for people physically and socially.”

Matt Gnan, interim athletic director at Portville Central Schools, said the sports day gets girls to participate in sporting events outside of their own schools.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to grow and network with each other. It’s good for these young girls to benefit from the schools and people around them,” Gnan said.

In order to fund the sports day, St. Bonaventure depends on donations from its members. Scraba recalled asking Aramark coordinators if students could donate lunches for the cause.

“Since you don’t use it, you lose it…," she noted. "I asked if students could donate a lunch to sponsor a visiting student, and we met our goal of over 640 lunches. Every year since I’ve been doing this, students donate lunches. Otherwise, there would be no way I could pay for their lunches. There’s no way I could run this event without donations.”

And the university's advancement and admissions departments donate drawstring bags, while ROTC donates water bottles.

Watson said all of the attendees will be eating together.

“Maybe if there’s a rivalry between schools, but they’re playing together and eating together here," Watson said. "We hope it unifies them and they think, ‘Yeah, we’re rivals on the field, but we’re all from Western New York and we’re all young women going for the same goals of becoming successful.' "

Martha Torrey, a physical education teacher at Allegany-Limestone middle and high schools, said for many girls, the sports day is an opportunity to see what college can be like.

“It helps them prepare for the future, and it’s a great benefit just having them interact with kids at other schools,” Torrey said. “It’s a very positive thing to have available. … They can get involved with the older athletes and coaches.”

Watson said this year's event will not include a keynote speaker like previous years had.

“I think it’ll be nice to see how students react to more clinic time," Watson said. "Some schools are coming from quite a ways -- like Bath for example. I think it’ll be good for them to feel like they’re getting more out of it. We just want to keep inspiring young women to be ambitious and embrace their goals and dreams and strive for what they’ve been told is impossible."

Watson added, "There is still a gender gap…but we can help more women build their self-confidence, and with that confidence, the world is more open.”

Scraba said the sports day shows off the university's students' willingness to run programs for younger women, who get a chance to see the athletes up close.

“If you’re a full-time student and an athlete, how you juggle that schedule playing D1 or club sports is important," Scraba said. "Our women provide a mentor-type experience to these middle and high schoolers.”

And she continued, "... for many of these students, this is the only opportunity they’ll have to be on a college campus, to get exposed and think, ‘Hey, maybe I could do it.’ ”