4 women continue to prove females have a place in sports and recreation
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Seeing females in male-dominated fields, such as sports management, is becoming more and more common. Just last month, the National Football League game between the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Browns was the first in history to feature a women coach on both sidelines, as well as a female referee.
Women in Colorado and Routt County also are breaking barriers across sports and recreation fields. These women may not have grown up seeing females in the positions they now hold, but that never stopped them from seeing themselves there.
The few who are bold enough to keep pushing through the ranks in male-dominated fields are often faced with condescending remarks or assumptions that they don’t know what they’re doing.
The women who rise to the top of these fields have seen it all and have learned to be stronger and better at their jobs because of it, all while slowly breaking down stereotypes and gender norms and showing young women they don’t have to limit their goals to certain fields.
Rhonda Blanford-Green has busted through glass ceilings not only at local and state levels but nationally as well. She is the first African American female commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association in the organization’s history. She’s also the first African American female in the nation to head a high school athletic association.
She’s been the commissioner of CHSAA since March 2017. Previously, she held leadership positions at the Nebraska and Louisiana high school athletic associations. The Aurora High School graduate also was an All-American track and field athlete at the University of Nebraska.
Blanford-Green has had plenty of practice taking criticism, especially with all the hard decisions she’s had to make this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She thinks she’s had to explain herself a bit more than a male may have.
“I do believe a female in this position does get questioned more,” she said. “I do believe a female in this position has to take extra steps to justify decisions and directions that I haven’t seen my predecessors have to do. When you enter into a field that isn’t equal in representation, you learn that that’s just part of the job. You also learn that you better be more prepared because those questions will come. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s reality.”
Over her years in the male-dominated field of athletics, Blanford-Green has been on the receiving end of discrimination and rude remarks.
A combination of man and explaining.
The explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing (Oxford Languages).
“It’s just societal; it’s institutional. If you talk to any women in a leadership role … we all have had those experiences,” she said. “I don’t want to speak specifically to me. It’s just inherent in our society in these leadership roles — that there is another layer of justification that comes with a female being in those positions.”
Blanford-Green feels a responsibility to open doors for other minorities as well as women. She believes it’s up to the people in positions of power to create opportunities and encourage minorities to take advantage of them.
“I know we’re creating the Rhonda Blanford-Greens and the Ruth Bader-Ginsburgs and the C-Suite vice presidents through high school athletics and activities,” she said. “That is what makes me feel good.”
Angela Cosby is not the first female city leader in Steamboat Springs. In fact, Steamboat has a long history of having many women in positions of power. However, Cosby is the first female director of parks and recreation for the city.
Fortunately, she’s never experienced any discrimination while in Steamboat but said she’s had a few experiences at past jobs. While working as the director of parks and recreation in Astoria, Oregon, she was called, “little girl.”
“The police chief there at the time, who I highly respect and he’s a good friend of mine, he was probably late 60s, early 70s, twice retired, very solidified in his experience,” Cosby said. “We were debating in our weekly management team meeting over a policy issue, and he smirked at me and said, ‘OK little girl.’ I just smiled back and said, ‘Yes, grandpa.’ That’s a friendly, easy way to acknowledge it.”
Cosby isn’t certain the “girl” part was the insult but rather the word “little,” since she was just 27 and the first female on that city’s leadership team.
She doesn’t think she was given her job because of her gender but rather earned it because of her accomplishments and qualifications. Still, even if gender isn’t a hiring factor, she said it’s important to hire females into male-dominated fields because decisions should be made with a variety of perspectives in mind.
“I believe it’s important for organizations and people in government, especially in leadership positions, to represent the communities that they serve,” Cosby said. “If our community has women in it, which it does, then we should also have women in a variety of leadership roles. Same with men. That goes with every issue, whether it’s gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.”
Sarah Floyd is the first female executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has supported female coaches and athletes for decades. Floyd was appointed to the job two years ago but has been a coach or staff member at SSWSC since 1987.
Not only has she seen the club grow and gain national recognition, but she’s seen the club and the ski industry become more and more gender-balanced.
“We’re doing well, but we can do better,” Floyd said. “I think that’s the answer for the world. … It’s still predominantly male, and we’re working hard to recruit, retain, train and ensure we have a culture that is supportive and encouraging of female athletes and coaches.”
During the 2019 summer and winter seasons combined, 45% of the club’s athletes were female. Even the staff is nearly equal with females making up 43%, according to the SSWSC.
However, while the club as a whole is nearly gender equal, Floyd said the balance between males and females shrinks as athletes age.
“At the competitive level, the older ages, it’s not as balanced,” she said. “Club wide, it’s quite balanced, but we’re working on some initiatives to balance it more for older athletes. It’s critical for female athletes, particularly teen female athletes, to have positive female role models.”
Jo Parker is a rare breed. She’s the athletic director at Soroco Middle School and Soroco High School, a role that has typically been held by males. Parker is in her third full year as AD at Soroco. She doesn’t think gender makes anyone better or worse at the job. It simply depends on an individual’s qualifications.
“I think that the position is a position that can be done by anyone who is organized, doesn’t mind working some very strange hours, and I believe it’s just a job where you have to be dedicated to kids and dedicated to sports,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.”
Other than being a middle school coach and an involved parent, Parker had no previous experience running an athletics department. Despite her lack of experience and gender, she said she’s been treated fairly and well. No one has ever talked down to her in any way.
“If I ask another athletic director, who’s been athletic director for a long time, a question, they just answer it the way they would do it and not say this is how you have to do it,” she said. “That’s nice. They’re really kind to open up and share their knowledge.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.