Girls PLAY Serves a Winner

    Swimmer Nikki Chang gives a campus tour to middle school girls.

    Oct. 6, 2013

    The day began as nearly 400 middle school girls filed off buses and into the Galen Center, eager to experience a day on campus in the company of college athletes. The energy in the room was contagious. These participants of USC Athletics' inaugural Girls PLAY event came from 17 local schools through the Los Angeles Unified School District's after school enrichment and recreation program Beyond the Bell.

    Girls PLAY began when long-time USC fan Luis Armona noticed what the athletes were doing though A Day in Troy. Armona wanted to see this experience repeated often, at various women's sporting events throughout the semester. Through an incredibly generous $50,000 gift from Armona, the Girls PLAY initiative was born with the aim of educating middle school girls on the importance of self-respect, positive body image, nutrition, and college expectations.

    For the first of five events this academic year, female athletes from the rowing, swimming and water polo teams attended the educational portion of the day to share personal testimonies. The stories told by these athletes were funny, relatable, and empowering. Swimmer Nikki Chang spoke to the group about how she works hard to overcome the common temptation girls face to compare themselves to those seemingly "perfect" others. Marygail DiBuono and Kamali Houston of rowing also spoke to the visitors. "All of these topics are so important to how we grow as women and inevitably determine whether or not we can be successful at what we do," said DiBuono.

    After the educational session, the girls picnicked in McCarthy Quad on campus with the athletes where they were able to further engage in conversation. The girls were led on intimate group tours of campus with athletes as guides. DiBuono was motivated to participate in the day because of her desire to inspire the girls to achieve their goals. "I really wanted them to see that hard work really can pay off," said DiBuono, who's tour lasted nearly an hour because of excited questions. The lunch and touring portion of the day gave the local children a chance to understand what college was about, and envision the opportunity to pursue higher education.



    For the day's final activity, the guests watched the Women's Volleyball team defeat Cal in a gripping five set match. Donning USC t-shirts and foam fingers, these new Trojan fans cheered emphatically for their team.

    The local kids were not the only ones impacted by the energy of the day. Many of the student-athlete volunteers took away a new perspective on their community. "One of the best parts about being a college athlete is being in a position to help make a difference. Spending the day with such a special group of girls was not only rewarding, but eye-opening. I was both humbled and honored to be a part of the first ever Girls PLAY event, and I can only hope that the girls took away as much from the day as I did," said Chang.

    Girls PLAY will build on this great first outing with four more installments this season. The next event will be held on November 3rd at the Women's Soccer match.