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Seed Grant Awardee: Betsy Schneider

Betsy Schneider | School of Art

Playing on sports teams can be an extremely important and powerful experience in childhood. For many, it is not just where they discover their own potential as athletes but also a place where social bonds form and identity develops in relation to their body and their peers. For a girl, playing on a boy's team can be a moment of belonging and strength. But it is often also an experience of being an “other”. This more complex experience can shape the young athlete in ways that being on a team of their own gender or a blended co-ed team might not.

For this project, I will create a multi-channel video installation featuring both still and video portraits of 50 women*, girls, and transmen describing childhood experiences of playing on boy sports teams. Video interviews will focus on the individuality of the subjects rather than answers to specific questions. I intend to use interviews, photographs, and conversation as a way to understand these personal experiences of playing on boy teams. Through asking for specifics, I hope to tease out both similarities and differences, from person to person, from culture to culture, sport to sport, and ultimately, time and funding permitting, from country to country. By comparing the memories and observations of the subjects I will hold a mirror up to youth sports, co-ed experiences, and the barriers that have and many instances continue to exist for girls in sports. I will begin with basic questions: Who was drawn to play on boy teams and why? Was it the love of the sport? A deep drive to prove themselves or a chance opportunity? Was it a pivotal moment of their childhood or an anomalous moment? Did participation lead to more confidence? How did these experiences affect their perspective in later life? Do they think their participation influenced others?

In short, the hypothesis is that for many girls, playing on a boys sports team is a formative event in their lives but also something that reverberates beyond the singular experience. Many girls who played on boy's sports teams paved the way for girl's teams and programs. They have served as role models for children who might be afraid to pursue something that brands them as different or another.

By putting together a critical mass of stories over generations, cultures, and sports, I believe the viewer will come away with a more compassionate and nuanced view of how the bravery of a few young girls has helped change the landscape of gender and sports. Also how individual identities are shaped by participation in youth sports, by interaction with adults and others, and how we still have challenges but by hearing these stories we can gain a richer understanding of the ways to continue to move forward in making sports more inclusive for girls and women and leading to a healthier society for all.

Last updated April 2021.