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Softball star touts importance of athletics for young women

Sports can provide the necessary “life skills” to be successful, Olympic softball gold medalist Jessica Mendoza said at the fourth-annual Lourdes/Bearcats Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon and Auction.

Mendoza was the featured speaker at the Feb. 2 event that drew more than 400 campus and community leaders and supporters to the Events Center. The luncheon, which raises money for the BUAC Women’s Scholarship Fund, also featured a silent auction and raffles.

Mendoza discussed how opportunities she had as a multi-sport athlete growing up led her to a scholarship to play softball at Stanford and spots on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams. The United States won the gold in 2004 in Athens and the silver in 2008 in Beijing, as Mendoza hit .333 with four home runs.

The experiences and memories are vital, but not as much as what she gained in the long journey.

“The fact is I became a much more confident woman,” she said. “When I was going through the teenage years, it was tough. I was really questioning, ‘Who am I? What path am I going to choose?’ Sports gave me the confidence to be a leader — to not be afraid to stand alone when I had to. These are real-life decisions.”

Mendoza said her mission is to speak to girls across the country and around the world in order to “create more opportunities.” One in three girls participates in sports today, compared to one in 27 during the 1970s, Mendoza said. But girls still need support to ensure that today’s numbers do not decline.

Mendoza is making an impact. She is featured in a new Gatorade commercial alongside sports greats such as Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Serena Williams, Misti May-Treanor and Derek Jeter. She is the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and is part of the group’s GoGirlGo educational curriculum. She also has served as an athlete ambassador for Team Darfur, raising awareness of the crisis in Africa.

Being able to travel the globe and help children is special for Mendoza.

“Just giving them a ball or something to play with,” she said. “In 10 minutes, kids in Africa kicking a soccer ball have forgotten what happened to their parents. They’ve forgotten the wars occurring around them.”

The young women on the sports fields are tomorrow’s leaders, Mendoza emphasized, adding that 80 percent of corporate American women played sports at one time in their lives.

“We are creating the future,” she said. “It seems silly because it’s a game. These are sports; it’s fun to watch. But these girls and women are going to make a difference. Maybe not in the sport they’d like, but in whatever role, path or career they choose.

“There are young girls out there all over. If you give them a little help, encouragement and get them sweating and having fun, you’ll be making much more of a difference than any of us could ever imagine.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08