Creating gender equality in collegiate sports is a long and ongoing struggle. Although the College became officially coeducational in 1969, it wasn’t until 1971 that women could participate as members of the NIRSA, the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association. This occurred 12 years after the association voted in 1959 to exclude women from obtaining membership.
Much progress has been made over the past 50 years to establish gender equality in the world of collegiate recreational sports. The College currently has thirty varsity sports teams– 15 for men and 15 for women. Students can also choose from a selection of 27 club sports, such as fencing, ultimate frisbee, and golf. Although the majority of these club sports are co-ed, many of their rosters remain male-dominated.
This was one of the main reasons Annika Hogan `24, Bridget Grant `24, and Gabby Rickards `24 created a women’s water polo team, the first in the College’s history.
Since its inception, the majority of the co-ed, club water polo team’s twenty–plus members have been men. Grant recalled that during her time on the co-ed team last year, there were as few as five female players who consistently attended practices and tournaments.
“One thing I did notice about the co-ed water polo league was that it was heavily male-dominated, and I felt like creating a women’s team would provide a space for women to get involved without feeling intimidated or uncomfortable,” Grant said.
Rickards added, “I think that having a co-ed team is great. I think that having a women’s team however makes it easier for women to get involved. Another benefit is that the co-ed league is only in the fall so this gives us another opportunity to get back in the water and give us more playing time which is always so much fun.”
The three worked closely with the Associate Director of Recreation Services, Marc Roy, and the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Commissioner, Dan Sharadin, during the fall to successfully bring the club to fruition in the spring.
Hogan expressed her thanks for the immense support they received during the process of establishing the club.
“I am very grateful for the help we received while starting the team. The Recreation AD, Marc Roy; the CWPA commissioner, Dan Sharadin; and the heads of Colby’s Co-ed Water Polo Club Team have done nothing but support us along the way,” she said.
Grant, Hogan, and Rickards serve as the team’s captains and coaches, developing strategies, planning practices, and organizing logistics. The team is open to all students, regardless of skill level or previous experience.
The team competed last weekend in its first tournament of the season, hosted by Bowdoin College. It won one of its four games and is currently preparing for an upcoming tournament at Middlebury College.
Hogan reflected on her experience this past weekend.
“I had only ever scrimmaged or played against male-dominated teams. Playing against only women was the first time I felt like I actually had a chance to play the sport of water polo. I could compete against my competitors instead of uselessly trying not to drown. I am incredibly proud and excited for the future of this team after seeing what we were capable of this past weekend,” she said.
The largest obstacle the team currently faces is fundraising for gear, travel expenses, and equipment. Women’s swimsuits are on average more expensive than men’s suits, which poses a challenge to ordering team uniforms. Women’s teams also play with slightly smaller balls, so with the exception of caps, the team can’t use any of the co-ed team’s gear.
“Some of the biggest challenges that I anticipate in moving forward are dealing with the logistics of going to tournaments, staying involved in the league, and fundraising. We did struggle a bit with getting funding just to join the league. It’s [around] a couple grand just to join and fundraising for the different equipment for the women’s team was also difficult,” Rickards said.
The women’s water polo team strives to establish a safe and comfortable environment for female athletes to engage with the sport on a competitive level while also giving students the opportunity to become more involved in the Colby community.
“I think having a women’s team is incredibly important. Water polo is an incredibly aggressive and high-contact sport, and this can be really intimidating for women since it is so male-dominated,” Grant said. “A women’s team allows women to join without the hesitations or fear that come with being in a male-dominated environment and can feel a lot safer and more welcoming. I have found that a lot of [girls] who had hesitations about joining the co-ed team were really excited to join the women’s team.”
~ Maura Thompson ’24