Seeing is Believing
President, USL Spokane
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year, I began to reflect on my journey to become president of USL Spokane and how my experiences are shaped by the incredible work of past women in the sports industry.
Growing up in Pullman, Wash., the home of Washington State University, I was exposed early on to a pioneer for women in the industry. I was an athlete in high school and my friend’s mom, Marcia Saneholtz, was the Senior Associate Athletic Director for WSU at the time. She was an essential figure in leading efforts to ensure equity was carried out following a court ruling, spurred by Title IX, requiring WSU to address inequities in its athletic programs. Marcia helped unify the men’s and women’s athletic programs into one unified athletic department and further enhanced the development of women’s athletics. Her incredible work masked the rarity of women in the industry for me. When I saw her, I thought I could be her.
I carried that feeling when I went off to the University of Washington for college. My days as an athlete were over, but I pursued sports opportunities, interning for three years within the Huskies’ athletic department that was led by Barbara Hedges. Barbara was the first female to lead an NCAA Division I program that included football. Mind you, the football program won the 1991 NCAA Championship only six months into her tenure. Additionally, my boss, who was the head of the marketing department, was also a female.
My path was shaped by influential women, but it still never fully hit me that they were trailblazers in the sports industry. I was lucky and naïve to how hard these women worked to make my journey seem easy.
Despite the trajectory at the time into sports, I was lucky enough to become a stay-at-home mom a few years after graduation, and my love of sports adopted a new meaning as my three sons participated in athletics. As they grew older, I eventually rejoined the workforce, taking a job in banking. When my youngest son’s club soccer team approached me about volunteering as a board member and eventually as treasurer in 2017, I embraced the opportunity. I developed a newfound love for the sport as I balanced their books and assisted with club administration.
Even my experiences growing up in a college town were no match for the inclusivity and sense of community the sport of soccer radiates. Athletics were—and still are—a vital part of the Pullman community, but the worldwide appeal and accessibility of soccer to all cultures are on a different level than any sport in America. I saw it firsthand when trying to find the right television channel so a foreign exchange student could watch his favorite club back home in Germany. However, the inclusive environment and community-unifying traits of the world’s game that I loved and shared with my family contrasted with what was happening outside of sports. With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest nationally, I wanted to find a way to lift Spokane. Then, all teary-eyed, it hit me. Soccer can help heal us.
In the same way soccer provided shared experiences with my children and brings the rest of the world together, I wanted soccer to do that for the Spokane community. I believed I could be the one to do it because I saw strong women lead in the sports industry from such an early age.
Using my experience with community engagement, economic development and policy work in the area, I volunteered with a group of other community leaders to help bring a United Soccer League club to Spokane. The goal? Build upon a shared vision with the USL to partner with the local school district to construct a stadium that can serve as a community living room for everyone, especially underrepresented communities.
"We made it happen"
Spoiler alert: We made it happen. The Spokane Public Schools Board voted to build a $31 million, 5,000-seat downtown stadium to serve not just their students and families, but USL teams and the entire community as well. Shortly after, I was given the honor of being named USL Spokane president.
Sometimes I ask myself if I am qualified for this job. Even when I did not think about it, many people questioned if I fit since they only knew me from my banking background and not my experience working in athletics. However, the subtle feeling of imposter syndrome is the exact motivation I needed to keep making an impact. Marcia and Barbara fought opposition to break into the male-dominated industry years ago, so I had to take my chance too. My sports journey may not have been linear, but my experience of raising and being involved in my kids’ lives rebirthed my passion for the industry.
Women, especially in the USL ecosystem, are getting their opportunity to be in the room, to make an impact.
Around Spokane, excitement for soccer, especially women’s soccer, is growing. I have been approached in all sorts of places, even in the grocery store, and been told how awesome this project is. Women, especially in the USL ecosystem, are getting their opportunity to be in the room, to make an impact. Despite sometimes being the only woman in the room, I never felt out of place. The community is craving women’s sports and female leaders, something I do not think we could say back when I was an intern. The community of women who pioneered Title IX paved the way for women to play and work in sports. Similarly, my sons and the passionate fans I met on the sidelines empowered me to help unite the Spokane community. Although there is still plenty of work to do to increase opportunities for women, I am grateful for those who showed me it was possible and were the foundation of a dream that began years ago and has come to fruition in a beautiful way.
To the women who paved the way, I am forever grateful.
From The Pitch aims to provide a platform for individuals within the USL to share their thoughts on things that matter most to them – at the crossroads of life and the beautiful game. USL partner Bellevue University is committed to empowering motivated students to explore their passions, impact change in their communities and chase their dreams.