A version of this post was published in partnership with PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com, a project of Temple University’s journalism program.
When Beth Devine quit her job to focus on fitness full time, she knew things were getting serious.
Devine, founder of the organization Philly Girls in Motion, has been a coach and athlete for many years. Now she has the opportunity to share her passion for athletics with a new generation of girls.
Philly Girls in Motion started in 2010 with the assistance of Councilman-at-Large Jim Kenney, who advised Devine to start the nonprofit and seek the support of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
In the beginning, the organization operated fitness programs like yoga, zumba and running rather than organized sports. Philly Girls in Motion still runs these programs today at three recreation centers and two schools.
Administrators at Edward O’Malley Athletic Association initially approached Devine to start a lacrosse program because they wanted to expand their athletic offerings for girls. EOM hosts the free instructional lacrosse league at their field at Front and Moore streets. Devine said she was hesitant to start an organized sports league at first.
“When I was first approached about doing lacrosse, I asked myself, ‘Do I really want to get into sports at all?’ Because you start something for the kids and the adults take it over,” Devine said. Overzealous parents are at times a source of conflict in youth sports, but it seems the parents of players in the instructional league are happy to watch their children improve their skills in a supportive and educational environment.
“The coaches are great role models for the girls. They play lacrosse at area colleges. I think it’s good for our girls to see older girls in that role,” said Michael Gillespie, Jr. His daughters, ages 8 and 12, play in the league.
Parent Jennifer Haymes says that the program is beneficial in that it provides an opportunity for girls of all backgrounds to get started in a new sport at no cost to parents.
“I don’t know of any African-American girls who play lacrosse,” Haymes said.“I’d like [my daughter] to know that there are sports available to African-American children other than the usual ones like basketball or football.”
Devine noted that although lacrosse instruction has historically been more accessible to kids in the suburbs, the girls in the city have been fast learners.
“There’s no reason why these girls can’t make it in lacrosse just because they were born in the city,” she said. “It’s crazy that there are six Division I schools in Philadelphia but none of them recruit in the city. These are kids we gave sticks to six weeks ago and they said, ‘What do we do with this?’ Now they’re doing drills, scooping and cradling.”
Devine believes that before Philly Girls in Motion came to be, the athletic options for girls in Philadelphia had been limited in general.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there doing good things for kids, but we’re unique in that we chose to focus on girls,” she said. “My perception is there are a lot of athletic opportunities out there for boys, and we wanted to fill in that gap for girls.”
The lacrosse program started with four clinics last winter at area colleges. The league picked up again in March with space available for 60 players in second through eighth grades. The girls practice on Thursday evenings through the end of May.
Besides lacrosse instruction, the program also offers guidance for girls in the areas of nutrition, avoiding drugs and alcohol and social skills such as teamwork and fair play. These weekly lessons are part of the GoGirlGo! curriculum, created by the Women’s Sports Foundation to promote an active, healthy lifestyle for girls. The lacrosse program is funded in part by a grant from the foundation.
The coaches lead the GoGirlGo! sessions in the EOM hall after the clinics. The girls were also provided with take-home booklets that reinforce the concepts taught. In the booklets, the girls can fill out activity logs or find healthy snack ideas.
First time lacrosse player Jade Channon, 11, enjoys the lessons.
“I think it’s very inspirational,” Channon said. “It helps with every day things.”
Devine said the program has the potential to affect lasting positive change in girls’ lives, even if they choose not to continue playing lacrosse once they complete the program. Some of the program’s greatest strengths are the positive female role models who coach the girls.
“The coaches show that there are opportunities out there for the talents they have. It sends a huge message; you can do this too,” Devine said. “You can succeed at something, too, even if it’s not necessarily lacrosse.”