Bulldog alumnae kick off conference

A celebration of past and present female athletes begins Friday when Yale’s Women Intercollegiate Sports Endowment and Resources kicks off a weekend of events to encourage women to network with each other.

“When talking about sports, people always refer to the Old Boys network,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Barbara Chesler said. “We hope this helps build the New Girls’ network.”

Women’s tennis player Christine Alford ’07 used connections built at last year’s WISER conference to secure a summer internship.
Betny Townsend
Women’s tennis player Christine Alford ’07 used connections built at last year’s WISER conference to secure a summer internship.

WISER is a new endowment that seeks to enhance women’s athletics at Yale by providing current athletes with greater access to resources and mentors. This weekend will be the second annual WISER celebration, and the events will be focused on bringing on-field experience into workplaces.

The festivities include opportunities for alumnae to watch current sports teams compete, to play their own games and even to participate in an alumnae boot camp. The weekend will also commemorate 30 years of the Nellie Elliot Award, given at graduation to the top female athlete. But the most cross-generational contact will happen at a roundtable discussion and reception Saturday.

“One of the most important focuses of the weekend is to foster leadership through Yale and pool women together from all different sports,” said founder Anne Keating ’77, the first recipient of the Nellie Elliot Award. “It’s nice to have cross-fertilization, if I may, across sports.”

A few years ago, Keating said, she sat around a table with Chesler and Lisa Brummel ’81, asking what they could do for Yale women’s sports. They concluded they should set up an endowment to provide resources for women’s sports.

Keating — who played volleyball, field hockey, basketball and lacrosse — and Brummel — who played tennis — joined forces with several other athletic alumnae, and in January 2005 a nine-person founding committee presented the Athletics Department with $500,000 to start their fund. Although the endowment has yet to reach its goal of $1 million, it has grown by over $200,000 in the past two years, Keating said.

She said that while the fund has come up short monetarily, the establishment of WISER has made significant steps toward the long-term goal of developing relationships between current and former athletes. She came up with the endowment’s acronym with the famous “older and wiser” adage in mind.

At last year’s conference, current athletes had the opportunity to listen to and learn from “older and wiser” athletes such as Keating and the other co-founders of WISER. Returning participants said they are excited to have this opportunity once again.

“It was amazing to hear the women speak about themselves and how they got to where they are now,” said Christine Alford ’07, a tennis player. “They spoke to us about using the skills from athletics and translating those into the work force.”

Alford said she was impressed by caliber of the panelists last year, all of whom held prestigious positions — among them, the president of Gatorade. Last year’s weekend allowed her to establish a connection that ultimately landed her an internship with Microsoft in Sydney, Australia, she said.

Jennifer Warden ’09, who has been instrumental in planning this year’s events, said she has gotten around 20 alumnae to return for this weekend.

“We hope that people will find the functions fun and informative,” said Warden. “And if all goes well, they should leave feeling like they’ve learned a lot about the variety of paths that you can choose post-college, and heard from very successful women who were once Yale athletes just like themselves.”

Nancy Cahill ’79, another founder of WISER, said the students took the lead in planning this weekend.

“In my opinion, the best type of mentor relationship is when the [non-mentor] takes the initiative,” she said.

Cahill, an attorney, hopes to provide an example for student athletes this weekend when she talks to them about balancing work with life and family. She said she hopes to convey how her athletic background has helped her with discipline and leadership, and has kept her competitively motivated during dreary moments during work.

Chesler said sports programs for women do not have the same resources as those of men’s sports, which benefit from decades of alumni involvement and endowments dating back to the ’40s and ’50s.

“It is time that women step up and support their respective programs,” she said.

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