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A league of their own

Female-centered athletic groups provide social opportunities, boost confidence by Molly Morris | May 18, 2022 at 12:15 a.m.
Diane Vitello launches her disc at the start of a new hole at County Park.

Wednesdays are one of Connie Bond’s favorite days of the week.

No, it’s not because it’s hump day.

Wednesdays are when the ladies golf league meets at Oak Hills Golf Center.

After her husband lost his battle with cancer eight years ago, Bond, 76, joined the league as a means of exercise and socialization.

That’s what participation in athletic groups can offer. 

Whether it’s leisurely golf or aggressive rugby, active groups provide an outlet to burn energy and make friends — regardless of age or experience.

And for women in the stereotypically male-dominated sports world, having a safe space to call their own — on a course, a field or a court — is even more important.  

  photo  Jefferson City women’s disc golf group organizer Alexis Kerman launches her disc at the County Park course.
 Shaun Zimmerman 

A social environment

Enter female-centered athletic groups.

“It’s simple. It’s a space where you get to play with women,” said Alexis Kerman, the organizer of Jefferson City’s women’s disc golf group, which is a subsection of the more formal Jefferson City Disc Golf Club. 

“In disc golf, like a lot of sports, it’s a white, male-dominated sport, and so it’s so hard sometimes to go out and feel comfortable. We want to provide an open and safe and fun environment … so that women want to play disc golf.”

An avid ultimate Frisbee player, Kerman, who previous served at the outdoor recreation program manager with the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, was looking for a way to stay active in 2020 when ultimate tournaments were canceled due to COVID-19. 

She lives in Columbia and started participating in a women’s disc golf league there but wanted to bring the sport to women in the Capital City. 

Thanks to her involvement with JC Parks and the cooperation of the local club, an indoor putting league was started by the women’s group in early 2021. That led to a successful outdoor league last season and another winter putting league this year. The 2022 outdoor league is getting underway now. 

The informal women’s group, which does not require membership in the Jefferson City Disc Golf Club, currently meets on Monday evenings at County Park, and Kerman is hoping to expand to Saturday sessions in conjunction with the main club’s league.

Though she refers to herself as competitive, one of the pluses of the women’s group is that it’s “so not competitive,” she said, noting women of various ages and skill levels meet at the park to play disc golf but also just to hang out. 

“For any sport in general, it’s: ‘Why do you go out?’ ‘Well, my friends are there,’ and not only that, but ‘I really enjoy the sport,’” Kerman said. “I get to play this really fun, cool sport and get to meet and hang out with awesome ladies.” 

That’s why Bond’s son encouraged her to join the women’s golf league at Oak Hills after she lost her husband and longtime golf partner. 

She said she was nervous at first, worrying she wouldn’t be good enough, but that fear quickly went away when she met the group. 

About a dozen or so retired women play each week; most of them were strangers before meeting on the greens.

“It’s just been a wonderful experience,” she said. “We’re a bunch of ladies from all around the country that ended up in Jeff City and just enjoy each other’s company and golf.”

Camaraderie, or a sisterhood, as Angela Nale calls it, is one of the many attractive reasons for playing sports with other women. 

As an athlete and now a coach, she’s seen the bond that can form firsthand.

After her son wrapped up his high school career playing for the Nightmare Rugby Club in 2014, she wanted to give high school girls the same opportunity and started the Lady Nightmare group.

The local club is comprised of mostly Jefferson City high school students, though she’s had players from Eldon, Ashland and Columbia as well. 

“When you see these girls interact with each other and these other teams, it’s not like any other sport,” Nale said, noting the players are genuinely friends on and off the pitch, regardless of what team they’re on or who won the game.

  photo  Members of the Lady Nightmare Rugby Club, in gold, play in a 2019 match. The team was second in the state that season.
Courtesy of Angela Nale

A sense of confidence 

The sisterhood gives the players a sense of pride, Nale said, and in an aggressive sport like rugby, confidence is another inevitable byproduct.

“If you can let your daughter play rugby, I can tell you that girl is going to be able to defend herself in any situation she’s in in life, and she’s going to believe in herself more than anything because she’s going to be able to do something that most girls cannot do,” she said. 

More than just “football without the pads and helmet,” rugby is not as dangerous as some people think, Nale said, adding safety is preached above all else at practice.

“There is a position for every girl on that field,” she said. “Even if you’re not the most athletic, I can guarantee I can find something you’ll be good at on the rugby pitch. You never know what kind of talent is hidden in these players.”

To Nale, the benefits of the girls rugby team are obvious, but fielding a club sport team hasn’t been easy.

She’s part of an ongoing effort to bring rugby into the schools, but it’s not a Missouri State High School Activities Association-approved sport — and local districts haven’t been too receptive to the idea, she noted.

“Women’s sports or girls sports just don’t have the following that boys sports do, and we have an obstacle, and I don’t know what this obstacle is, chromosomes maybe, I don’t know, but we have an obstacle of getting people to welcome it and build it and help support it.”

JCHS has allowed her to recruit students at school, but with a full-time job at Central Bank occupying the bulk of her time, keeping rugby afloat is a struggle.

The Lady Nightmare club has had its share of setbacks, most of which Nale blames on the residual effects of COVID-19. 

The 2019 season was strong: The seasoned team, which is governed by Missouri Youth Rugby, was named No. 2 in the state. 

But then COVID-19 hit. 

Nale attempted a mini season in 2020, but restrictions made it difficult to travel for games. Then by 2021, most of the regular players had graduated, and she couldn’t field a team, which is comprised of seven girls on the pitch at any given time. 

“The obstacles make it very difficult,” she said. “We want people to be able to see what we see: the opportunity for our girls. 

“It’s so amazing to see these girls come out of their shells. … It goes back to, with any teenager, if you show that you believe in them, they will move mountains.”

Despite the challenges ahead of the 2022 season, which starts with practices in August, Nale said she’s going to give it her 300 percent. 

That’s what athletes do.  

“I’m an athlete myself … there is something to be said about an active woman. I always have this saying, ‘I’d rather be strong than skinny.’ I’m not a skinny individual, but I am strong and could break many people in half, and I love that. There’s just something to be said about those groups of people. … There’s a sense of confidence in a woman who plays a sport. She’s achieved something most people can’t.” 


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