‘Female athletes are growing our reputation’: Castor, women’s athletics honored at USF Stampede for Women’s luncheon

Former USF president Betty Castor was the first featured speaker and played a vital part in establishing athletics at the university by working to start the football program in 1996. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

USF Athletics chose to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day with its second annual Stampede for Women luncheon, which took place on Wednesday in the Corral. 

Members across all women’s athletics were in attendance and the joyous occasion gave recognition to everyone who has a role in the female athletic programs for the Bulls. 

The first female president of USF Betty Castor, women’s lacrosse coach Mindy McCord, women’s basketball associate head coach Michele Woods-Baxter and assistant athletic director Abby Ritter were specifically honored for their contributions.  

Seen as one of USF’s significant female leaders, Castor made it clear how proud she was of the Bulls. 

“As I look out on this audience today, I’m reminded of how much our female athletes mean to us and how much their success has contributed to the brand and the growing reputation as an athletic powerhouse,” Castor said. 

President Rhea Law agreed with Castor and reinforced the idea that sports act as the lifeblood of South Florida because they bring alumni back to the university and teach students important life skills.

Because of the vitality athletics provide, Law said she wants to empower female student athletes and acquire the resources to continue their success on the track, on the board, on the field or in the water. 

“We are competing for championships. We are also developing leaders. We’re breaking the barriers and we’re bringing a community around women’s athletics,” Law said. “USF believes in the power of sport and the lives of young women and the experience that prepares many student athletes for success in competition and in life.” 

Support for female athletes filled the room as USF celebrated the addition of a women’s lacrosse and beach volleyball team. The last time a female team joined was women’s soccer in 1995. They also announced new developments in womens’ sports programs.

Deanne King, former USF track and field athlete, hosted the event and interviewed student-athletes freshman setter Tatiana Johnson (volleyball), senior outfielder Meghan Sheehan (softball) and junior jumper/sprinter Shaniya Benjamin (track and field) on stage. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

Plans for new bleachers for volleyball, new bullpens for softball, increased charter flights for women’s basketball and more fully funded scholarships for all women’s teams were revealed on Wednesday. 

While new goals moving forward were presented like upgrading the locker rooms for female athletics, Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly made note of the momentous achievements recently made by various athletic departments. 

“When I had the opportunity to come and serve as athletic director, [Judy Genshaft] made it very clear to me that we are going to create and increase the opportunities and experience for our women student athletes. I can’t thank her enough for the opportunity to make this a reality for her,” Kelly said.

Kelly congratulated coach Jose Fernandez for his 118th conference win leading women’s basketball, Gillian Guadagnino on her third national title with the coed cheer team and Erika Brennan on raising women’s golf over 100 standings since she was hired in 2017. 

On top of the work done by the coaches, Kelly also emphasized that USF athletics has five women on its senior staff – the most in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). 

Working under the senior staff is assistant athletics director for development Abby Ritter. The former USF track and field athlete was the main individual in charge of the luncheon. She stood behind the podium with a crowd-moving speech about the emphasis of Title IX passing in 1972. 

The law protects individuals from sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. 

While the law legally protects individuals, Ritter reiterated that there is still a lot of work to be done with female representation in sports. 

“I’m going to simply offer my thoughts on how we experience the frustrations regarding cultural bias in our everyday lives,” Ritter said. “It’s something that I’m telling you USF is trying to change.”

Ritter asked all the student-athletes in the audience to stand as she spoke directly to them. 

“My hope for all of you is that 15 years from now each of you will look back at this time and be proud of all that was done to close the gap and you will be sitting here supporting the next generation of female student-athletes,” Ritter said.

Women in sports at The Oracle

Oracle sports editor Lanie De La Milera is a mass communications major and has been writing for The Oracle since 2021. For the last two years, she has grown through the sports section and now leads it along with freelancing with Gemstone Media on ESPN+ broadcasts. She primarily covers USF baseball and hopes to be an MLB sideline reporter. 

Oracle assistant sports editor Hannah Halili is a mass communications major and has been writing for The Oracle since 2019. Although starting in the news section, Hannah learned her passion for sports fairly quickly. She has also been a reporter and anchor for Florida Focus which airs on PBS. She primarily covers USF football and aspires to become an NFL sideline reporter.