USF partners with female youth empowerment initiative “Like a Girl”

Female athlete youth empowerment organization to expand attendance to volleyball, soccer, track and field, softball and tennis games. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/SHALYCE CABAN

USF Athletics has recently partnered with Hillsborough Parks and Recreation to bring the “Like a Girl” program to the Tampa Campus with the goal of motivating young female athletes.

The initiative aims to elevate the self-esteem of student athletes by allowing access to the female collegiate experience.

“Like a Girl” was conceived by Karlie Mintzer, an employee at the Westchase Recreation Center who noticed the lackluster spirit of the elementary to middle school-aged girls in regard to their own athletic ability.

To mitigate these concerns through active engagement with successful female athletes, Mintzer reached out to USF Assistant Softball Coach Claudia Rivera, who, along with USF Athletics Marketing Coordinator Shalyce Caban, set up the afterschool mentoring program between USF and Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation.

“They felt like they couldn’t compete with the boys, that they were getting out first and weren’t taken seriously,” Caban said.

Since Mintzer identified the issue in February, USF softball athletes have been making weekly trips to the Hillsborough Parks and Recreation center every Wednesday to inspire the girls through confidence-building activities with the aim to nourish their value for women in sports.

“They spend time with them and talk to them about things. They talk about their experiences as female athletes,” Caban said. “It’s just showing them you can do it too.”

After familiarizing the girls with the student athletes, Caban, Rivera and Mintzer extended their exposure to the inner workings of collegiate softball by bringing them on campus.

At a USF softball game on March 19, around 20 local elementary and middle school aged girls announced the starting line up and one threw the first pitch. Caban said this personified the “Like a Girl” ideal of female independence and autonomy.

“They get excited to just be around the atmosphere and be on the field and be able to do something important… it’s very impactful to the young girl,” she said.

Although Caban was apprehensive for the girls to shoulder the responsibility of announcing the starting lineup and throwing the first pitch, her anxiety evaporated once she saw the smiles on their faces.

“I was just really happy and proud to see it just go so well, and for them to have such a big impact,” Caban said.

The crowd was also delighted at the presence of the girls, as they clamored for the green T-shirts embellished with the “Like a Girl” slogan.

“They went like hotcakes,” Caban said. “Everybody wanted a shirt… they really wanted to be a part of that initiative… it not only inspired the young ladies in the program but also our students, our student athletes and our fans.”

Because of USF’s positive reception to enriching its future athletes, USF Athletics is looking to expand participation of Like a Girl to other female sports as well.

“Volleyball, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, softball, tennis and hopefully track and field next season,” Caban said. “We would pick a specific date… one game where we go all out and hopefully do something and give away some type of shirt or hat.”

Caban said every girl deserves to know that her confidence is imperative.

“I would explain to a young girl that she can do anything she puts her mind to. Just be proud and confident, and we can help her change her mindset. That’s what our student athletes do when they go and speak with them,” she said.