The screech of sneakers against the floor fills the gymnasium at
San Francisco State University, mingling with shouts of
encouragement and groans of frustration. Dozens of girls, ages
11 to 13, are performing basketball, volleyball and soccer
drills on this Saturday morning in late February. They--and some
100 adult volunteers--are attending a free event called Sports
'n Service, sponsored by SportsBridge, a nonprofit organization
that uses innovative sports programs to enhance girls'
self-confidence and leadership skills. The girls are divided
into two groups and spend eight hours rotating through sports
clinics, including sessions in water polo, lacrosse, kickboxing,
Ultimate Frisbee and cardio-funk dance. Tomorrow they will spend
the day sprucing up three recreation centers in the city as part
of the program's commitment to community service.
Studies have found that by the age of 14, girls drop out of
sports at a rate far higher than boys do. Research by the
Women's Sports Foundation also shows that while 31% of high
school freshman girls participate in sports, only 17% are still
involved by their senior year. SportsBridge, based in San
Francisco, is attempting to change that by giving girls the
inspiration, opportunity and support needed to make athletics a
lifelong habit. "A lot of girls want to know how to play sports
better, and this is their only chance," says Camille Hearst, a
ninth-grade student at San Francisco's Lowell High School.
SportsBridge, which targets inner-city girls, is the brainchild
of Ann Kletz, 27, a former starting forward on the Harvard
varsity soccer team. "I know that sports helped me to feel
confident, strong, independent and in control, and I want other
girls to grow up feeling the same way," says Kletz,
SportsBridge's executive director.
Kletz, who grew up in Berkeley, began playing soccer when she
was eight. There weren't any local girls' teams for her age
group, so she joined the Oakland Cougars in an all-boys' league
and became a starter. Kletz was a member of the under-19
national girls' team before enrolling at Harvard.
"I wanted to work for an organization that encourages girls in
sports," Kletz says. Since she couldn't find one, she decided to
start SportsBridge, using mentoring as a tool.
With grants from local and corporate foundations, and seed money
from the Washington, D.C.-based Youth Service America's Fund for
Social Entrepreneurs, Kletz launched her program in September
1995. During its pilot year 21 women athletes, ages 18 to 30,
were paired for 10 months with seventh- and eighth-grade girls.
The mentors were recruited from college campuses, local
volunteer and corporate programs and women's sports leagues.
"We're talking about a generation of women who grew up after
Title IX and can see the profound impact sports have had on
their lives," Kletz says. "And they want to pass that on to
girls through community service."
The mentors and their protegees meet once a week for three to
five hours to work on academic and athletic skills. The pairs
also attend monthly sessions involving the whole group, which
might mean attending a women's basketball game at Stanford or
going sailing on San Francisco Bay. "My mentor ran track in
college, so she gives me good tips about how to pace myself, and
exercises to make me stronger," says Camille. "And now I can
shoot free throws a lot better, thanks to the basketball clinic.
I still need help with my dribble."
"I wish I'd had something like this when I was a kid," says
mentor Tia Coleman, 22, a senior at Berkeley who plays
intramural basketball and volleyball. "If we encourage girls to
get involved at a young age, they'll be more inclined to
continue participating in sports, and they'll have higher
Kletz's budget has tripled, to $300,000, for 1997. She hopes
that soon she'll be able to train people to start satellites of
"Kids vote with their feet," Kletz says. "If they like the
program, they'll come. We've had a waiting list since we
started. That says a lot."
Stacey Colino is a San Francisco-based freelancer who writes
frequently about health and fitness.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BURGESS Kickboxing was one of eight sports that girls sampled one weekend at San Francisco State. [Girls kickboxing]