Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

I came across this podcast on the WBCA Web site. Beth Mowins and Debbie Antonelli were at Nike Nationals in South Carolina this summer, one of biggest AAU recruiting event of the year. This is a great overall outline of what we’re looking at for women’s basketball on multiple talent levls.

They talk about the recruiting process, how AAU influences a girls’ ability to get into college and what a high-level AAU tournament is like. They also discussed the WNBA fight and USA’s preparation for the Olympics.

On the high school level, the topic of conversation was Brittney Griener, the AAU star I wrote about earlier. Other players mentioned were Destiny and Tamika Williams. They said you can go down the list from every team there and find a girl who is going to “play major basketball.”

As I mentioned earlier, Beth and Debbie also touched on other subjects such as the WNBA fight (it was the most publicity the league has ever gotten), and preparing for the Olympics (this podcast was recorded before the Olympics) and some highlights from college basketball (top paid coaches).

They also talked to Mark Lewis, the columnist for women’s basketball at ESPN.com’s Hoopgurlz. Mark discussed how attention is drawn to younger girls who might progress to be stop stars, and “hot spots” around the country (highlight on Texas).  Mark also provided some advice on what girls should be working on, including emphasis upon skill work.

Mark was right when he said we need to “give hats off” to Nike, who sponsors multiple tournaments and camps to work on girls’ skills. Their sponsorship is certainly important for the future of women’s basketball.


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I wanted to extend a special thanks to Keri Mikulski for posting an interview about me on her blog.

Thanks again, Keri! Keri Mikulski is the author of Screwball, a book about women’s softball.

Keri is a former softball coach at the high school I graduated from. She’s very passionate about women’s sports and is one of my most loyal readers. You can also find Keri writing for Jane Schonberger over at Pretty Tough, who I interviewed a few weeks back.

It’s certainly a small word, and it’s so great to have a community of women interested in spreading the word about women’s sports.

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About a week ago, Erica Ortiz e-mailed me to let me know that she picked me as one of her top 5 favorite blogs for Blog Day 2008. I was honored and thanked her for reading my blog.
Interested in her career, I checked out her site, Horsepower and Heels, and was immediately impressed at her commentary as well as her unusual hobby… drag car racing. As you’ll read below, having played sports early in life, she found herself also interested in Mustangs. So she bought one, and starting racing it. The rest is history.
Erica’s story is both interesting and special, and has a feminist tone as she faces adversity in staying “girly” in a male-dominated sport. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to talk to me. I encourage everyone to check out her site and read her commentary.
1) Tell me a little bit about your career. What is your full-time job? You’re a drag car racer, correct? For those of us who are unfamiliar (including me), what exactly is drag car racing?

My day job, I am a marketing and events coordinator for a company that manufactures broadcast equipment. I do some side consulting for the motorsports industry as well. But on the weekends and every other second of my spare time, my passion is drag racing. Drag Racing is the all out acceleration from a dead stop, as fast as you can go in a 1/4 mile or 1320ft. distance. I have been racing since 1998, and turned PRO in 2006.

2) How did you become interested in drag car racing? How did your career develop professionally? Have you played any other sports in your life? If so, which ones? Have they contributed to your success?

Normally, people who race came about it through a family member that races, or some other mechanical aspect. My parents could hardly change a tire, so they find it very puzzling that I ended up having this passion for racing. I can remember being little and looking out the window of our painfully practical and all-around boring sedan at all the Mustangs and other hotrods on the road, and really being in awe of them. My favorite toys when I was little were little cars, not the Barbies my Mom wanted me to play with. When I got in my teen years, that passion for cars really grew. I was a 3 sport Varsity athlete in high school- Volleyball, Basketball, and Track. I actually had a full scholarship for Volleyball, but a severe auto accident the summer before my freshman year in college sidelined me from sports. The only release I had was to compete in cars, so after I graduated high school, I bought my first car- a Mustang GT, and started taking it out to the local track for Street Night. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Shortly after that, I started hanging out at a local speed shop with local star racer, Dennis Lugo. I ended up working there with him, and he taught me how to work on my engines, and really taught me the ropes of racing. My car progressively got faster. I started competing in a racing series, and ended up finishing #2 in my class in 2003, my first full year on the tour. I decided to move up to PRO in 2006, and finished #2 for the season in my rookie year there as well.

4) What are some challenges you face in terms of media attention and drag car racing? Is this typically a male-dominated sport?

Though more women are out there today than when I started back in 1998, Drag Racing is still very much a male-dominated sport. Because it usually is such a unique story, women racing do tend to get more media attention. For the most part, that is a very good thing. However, as we have seen with IRL driver, Danica Patrick, you also tend to be scruntized much more and criticized for your every action. What that means is that as you are going through the learning curve process, they have a microscope on you. Any mistake you make (and believe me, all drivers make mistakes- male or female) spurns all the negative criticism that you can’t “cut it as a driver”. The truth is, all rookies make mistakes, the men just don’t have the magnifying glass over them for theirs.

5) Does sponsorship play a large role in drag car racing? If so, how did you attract your sponsors? Is your gender a challenge in gaining sponsorship?

The great thing about motorsports is that its the one sport where men and women can compete evenly…. the cars know no gender. But these cars are extremely expensive, and require the help of corporate and product sponsorships as you move up the ranks. Better equipment means faster times and makes you more competitive, so obviously the better funded racer has more chances of winning. Being a woman and also hispanic, I am able to offer a very different demographic to my sponsors. Because we are so rare in the sport, women tend to get more coverage and more mainstream appeal than male counterparts. This is a big selling point to sponsors…. win or lose, their car will make the press and thus reach their audience in a big way.

Sponsorships in drag racing are some of the most beneficial marketing dollars companies can spend because it provides them with a very wide array of marketing and promotional abilities. Everything from signage on the car (viewed by spectators, TV, magazines, etc), apparel, corporate hospitality, on-site event promotion, endorsements, printed promotions and hero card handouts, etc. are used as tools to give sponsors exposure and a ROI. My team makes sure that we are very proactive in getting exposure for the companies we represent. We have been featured in countless magazine articles (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/Media/Print/Index.htm), we created our own TV Series (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/TV/index.htm), and we stay active promoting the team, and our sponsors on a daily basis. BRISK USA (http://www.briskusa.com/), my main sponsor for 2008, started off as a product sponsor in 2006 and we really worked to get them exposure for their products. They were so impressed by the results, they decided to step up in 2007 to help us bring out a more competitive car. We work very hard to make sure ALL our sponsors are getting a very worthwhile response out of their association with Horsepower & Heels.

Although it would seem that after years of competing and especially how much more marketing appeal we have, that sponsorships would be easy for female drivers. However, I found out the hard way that the glass ceiling is still strongly in place. I’ve been told before that a sponsor still feels that he isn’t sure a woman could handle “a beast of a car like that” and that they are looking for a champion and to win races. Doesn’t matter that women have proven they can win…. the mental thought is still that a man can “get the job done”. Unfortunately, its a double-edged sword. Because you rely on sponsorships to fund a competitive car, women can only be as succesful as their funding allows. Until one is given the chance with a championship budget, we’ll always be running for 2nd best.

6) Who came up with the name “Horsepower & Heels?” what is its purpose? What kind of feedback have you received on this name?

When I started racing, I very much wanted to be accepted, wanted to prove that I was able to compete with the men and be good at what I do. But after awhile, I found myself trying to “be one of the boys” to be out there competing with them. It was almost as though I was apologizing for being me… for being feminine and girly and still wanting to be a fierce competitor at the track. I didn’t like that…. and one day, when a fellow racer expressed his absolute disbelief that I wore heels to a dinner banquet it came to me: Who says Horsepower & Heels don’t mix?!? There is nothing wrong with being a fierce competitor and still being true to what I am…. I am very proud of being a woman in such a male dominated sport.

My friends laughed and really appreciated the name, and after launching my website (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/) to the public, I received comments and notes from all across the world from other women who could relate. Its allowed me to meet so many great and supportive people.

7) Why did you start a blog? What is the purpose of the blog? How long have you been in the blogosphere, and what have you learned about the community so far?

I started the blog as an experiment in March of 2005 when I launched my website. I had just heard the word “blog” and wanted to learn more about the blogosphere and to have a place to talk about things that were important to me. It started off as a journal, keeping my family and friends informed with how the racing was going, but over the years has expanded to include all things important to me. I love the open communication it allows, and though my niche tends not to be as active in the social media area and don’t comment as much as I’d like, my blog still is the highest read section of my website, and brings 10,000 unique visitors and more each month.

8. What type of audience reads your Hosepower & Heels blog? Is it mainly women? Are you able to attract male bloggers to your site? If so, how? Do you think this is important?

I have readers of all types on Horsepower & Heels: men, women, other racers, and people who don’t race at all. Men thinks its cool, and love to chat cars. Women think its empowering, and kids like to see what’s possible when you put your mind to it. All of that is important. And I try to make sure that there is something for everyone, and that its easy to understand. I also think its important to use my blog for good causes too, that’s why you’ll see a lot of special causes posts (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/blog/labels/Special%20Causes.html) in the mix too. Its important to give back.

9) What is the Horsepower & Heels Web TV series? How did this develop, and what is its purpose?

After my rookie PRO season, my crewmate Debbie and I were laughing at all the funny things that happen behind the scenes getting to the races. Some of those stories just don’t make good blog posts, and some of them would have made me money on America’s Funniest Home Videos. So, we decided to start carrying around a camera for PNN.com and record what its like behind the scenes being to women on the road and at the races. So far, we’ve been struggling to get the car back together, but once the race season kicks back in for us, there’s sure to be hilarity to follow.

10) I love your post entitled “More than a Tomboy.” I’m interested in hearing why you think people take such interest in your image, and how being a “tomboy” either helps or hurts your career.

This goes back to what created Horsepower & Heels to begin with. People see you out there in racing t-shirts and tanks, and a firesuit, and they begin to forget that you’re still a woman and capable of being girlie and attractive. I haven’t been racing recently, and I still get the comments of awe and shock when I wear dresses and skirts, as if being a racer by default means I can’t be girlie too. Its not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it can get a little undermining… like, do people even see me as girl anymore? Am I really that transparent? I’ve been “just one of the guys” so long that sometimes I just want someone to open a car door for me, or comment on my new outfit, and not the size of my engine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m way more comfortable in a shop getting greasy than I am in the kitchen or garden, but still.

11) I’ve seen quite a bit of objectification of women in the male sports blogosphere. They seem to only cover women’s sporting events if the girls are “hot.” What are your thoughts on this? Do you see this as a challenge for bloggers like you and me?

You always get the jerks who make rude and lude comments, that’s just part of it. But I think that as a whole, I’ve found men to be very respectful and complimentary of the actual talent of women athletes, a pretty face just is the very sweet icing on the cake. It breaks the stereotype that women who succeed in athletics are manly and ugly…. just look at Ashley Force or Danica Patrick. Beauty AND Brains AND talent to boot!

12) One of the goals of Because I Played Sports is to bring a voice to women’s sports online. I’m wondering what your opinion is on this. Do you think women’s sports are underrepresented? If so, why?

I do think that regular coverage of women sports is lacking. We are lucky in motorsports, because we’re the only sport that women and men compete together, so we already have media representatives there and grab their attention. But if it were an all-woman series, I don’t think we’d get the billing or the coverage at all, and that’s sad. Its the same for all the other sports…. womens’ basketball only is talked about when there’s a fight, etc.

13) In the fight to bring a voice to women’s sports, how important do you think corporate sponsorship is? Do you see this as a challenge for us? Compared to what it was like ten years ago, do you think we’ve made progress in generating attention for women’s sports? If so, how?

I do think its very important to show support for our female athletes, and that especially includes corporate sponsorship. By allowing them the same means to achieve in their sport, you are not only giving them the chance to be the best, but you are lending credibility to them in the eyes of people who subconsciously or even consciously view them inferior.

14) I noticed the byline of your site is “back then they burned bras… now we burn rubber.” I’m assuming this is a reference toward feminist movements. Do you believe participation in sport is an important aspect of third wave feminism? If so, how? Is it important in the “big picture”?

I don’t neccesarily consider myself a feminist, but I’m all about empowering women to achieve anything they set out to do. I believe that by not conforming to this centuries old idea of what a woman is supposed to do, act, and be, we are redefining what we are. That includes sports….

15) In your opinion, what are some necessary steps to generate attention toward female sports for the future?

Media coverage such as ….Because I Played Sports, more support from sponsors, more personalization into the lives of the women. How much more impressive is it to see these awesome athletes, and know that many of them are mothers, career women, etc. Most women athletes right now are not making their living from their sport, unlike male counterparts. That’s what makes their successes that much more impressive.

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I recently had the unique opportunity to interview a pioneer who has dedicated her career to bringing a voice to women’s sports, Jane Schonberger. Jane is the founder and “Chief Trailblazer” for Pretty Tough, a #1 site for female athletes and fans of women’s sports.

Geared toward young girls and their growing desire to play sports, Jane established the Pretty Tough (PT) brand to demonstrate that a woman’s femininity and desire to play hard can be strong and can co-exit. Not only does PT do an excellent job of conveying this message to an audience who needs to hear it the most, but the site also has some of the best comprehensive, up-to-date coverage of women’s sports available.

I am a strong supporter of this site and this company, and I wish Jane the best of luck in her future endeavors. (You might see me guest blogging for PT in the future).

Check out the below interview. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I have. Thank you, Jane, for your inspiration and taking the time to speak with me.

(MH) Tell me a little bit about yourself, your background and your role at Pretty Tough.

(JS) After a successful career as content developer and entertainment/brand marketing executive, I wanted to focus my attention on something I really cared about. I have two teenage daughters – both athletes – who are my role models.  I wanted to create a brand that spoke to them – and other girls of their generation – demonstrating that a woman’s femininity and desire to play hard and be strong can co-exist.

I teamed up with friends and colleagues that I’d worked with at Disney, Fox and other studios to develop and market the brand. I serve as the Chief Trailblazer but I have help from a talented group of writers, designers, consumer product gurus, licensing professionals, athletes and coaches.

(MH) Have you ever played sports? If so, which sports and how have they had an impact upon your current career and involvement with Pretty Tough?

(JS) As a kid I mostly played sports on a recreational level. I played tennis and swam competitively for a couple years but wasn’t a super serious athlete. The impact on my adult life comes primarily from lessons learned about goal-setting, perseverance and mental toughness.

Today I still play tennis and swim – I also love to hike and bike – and I play basketball on a Moms League at our local park.

I’m also an avid spectator – one of my daughters is an elite level soccer player, the other is a fencer – and I love going to youth sports competitions as well as college and professional sports events.

(MH) Tell me a little bit about the background of Pretty Tough (the book) and how the Web site and sports blog evolved from there. Does Liz Tigelaar have any continued impact on the site?

(JS) One of our early goals when we established Pretty Tough was to publish a series of books that featured young female athletes. We wanted stories about pushing limits and busting stereotypes – e.g. the popular jock can just as easily be a girl as a guy.

Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers, shared our vision and bought the series. Pretty Tough was the first book. Playing with the Boys was the second in the series and we’re working on the third and fourth books now.

Pretty Tough novels illustrate the life of female athletes in a way that’s never been done before. We wanted to show the grittiness and sweat that athletes must endure to be the best they can be. The books also delve into the lives of the athletes—their friendships and romances—stuff that appeals to girl readers.

We created the Pretty Tough book series because we love to read, and as teens, we could never find good books with a female athletic main character. We hope readers can identify with our characters and see how they deal with a lot of the same issues teens face today.

Author/screenwriter Liz Tigelaar was brought on board because she supports girls in their quest to be both strong and tough athletes without losing their sense of girlie-ness and femininity.  She loved the idea of writing books about teenagers for teenagers that sends a positive message and she’s done a terrific job capturing the voice of our characters.

(MH) I noticed there is a PT Team. I’m curious, how did this group of people come together? How did you find so many voices to represent so many different sports?

(JS) We developed a sponsorship/ambassador program last year to recognize girls in diverse sports. We have an application process and girls on our team benefit on a variety of levels.  PT Team members get exposure on our site and via our marketing campaigns; they receive a free cap and shirt, stickers, and other promotional material. They also earn discounts on products purchased through our online store and commissions on sales generated by their efforts.

(MH) In my opinion, Pretty Tough covers sports better than many other resources out there. Who is in charge of updating and keeping track of all the latest female sports news? How do they do it?

(JS) Given our limited staff, the task of keeping the site up-to-date is my responsibility. We work with a talented group of girls and women who contribute material specific to their sport and occasionally assign articles we think will be of general interest.

We’re always looking for new writers and experts and want to provide a forum for all female athletes so hit us up if you think you have something to contribute.

(MH) I noticed there is a “Life & Style” section to the site. What is the purpose of this section, and do you think that section is important in order to attain viewers?

(JS) At our heart, we are a lifestyle brand and I think it’s important for girls to understand how sports and leading active lives are core to a healthy lifestyle. By profiling certain personalities and depicting popular culture, we are essentially connecting the dots and demonstrating how sports and sports themes impact our lives positively on a daily basis.

(MH) How does Pretty Tough profit from the site?

(JS) The site was originally established to develop brand awareness for Pretty Tough and serve as an online shopping destination for Pretty Tough products. It has since evolved into a marketing/advertising vehicle for complementary companies as well.

(MH) I was once told by a female sports blogger that a main reason women’s sports publications such as Sports Illustrated for Women have fizzled out over the years is because they can’t compete with the fashion and consumer magazines and publications, and there is limited interest in the sports news alone. What do you think about this?

(JS) I think that print publications in general are finding it difficult to compete with the internet and other content delivery options. Women’s sports magazines just happened to be at the forefront of pubs experiencing financial difficulties. The current trend is in niche content and given the targeted demographic, I think marketers will find women’s sports sites a more cost-effective way to reach their audience.

(MH) I’ve written about this a few times on my blog, but something that really is annoying to me is that male sports bloggers often only cover female sports when the participant is “hot” or attractive. Have you seen this or come across this? What are your thoughts on male sports bloggers?

(JS) Objectifying female athletes is a favorite pastime of many male bloggers. It’s obvious that “hot” or attractive personalities are going to garner more media attention (whether it’s David Beckham or Amanda Beard) but bloggers only interested in T&A are abhorrent. I love to see female athletes in the spotlight but it’s important to recognize their athletic talents and achievements as well as their physical attributes.

(MH) If you look back to the WNBA fight that happened a few months ago, why do you think that was so successful in grabbing so much attention?

(JS) Although it might not have been the kind of attention the WNBA wanted, the mini-brawl did shine the spotlight on the players momentarily. Female athletes are just as competitive as men and when pushed to the edge they are obviously capable of exhibiting the same lack of control.  The bigger question should be: Now that the women have shown they can fight like the NBA players – can they get paid the same as the guys too?:-)

(MH) Since I started covering the Olympics this year, my site traffic jumped. There seems to be a strong interest during the Olympics which fizzles out over the year. Have you seen this as well? What are your thoughts about the Olympics and its ability to generate an interest in female sports?

(JS) With all of the media hype and money spent on the Olympics, it’s no surprise that interest in all sports was heightened during the event. Athletes such as Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richardson, Dara Torres, Kerri Walsh and Misty Misty May-Treanor received well deserved attention. Equally important was a focus on athletes like fencer Mariel Zagunis, pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski and martial artist Diana Lopez. Hopefully interest in them and other female athletes will continue.

(MH) What do you think about women’s softball being eliminated for the London games? Do you think there’s a chance to bring it back?

(JS) Softball’s elimination from the 2012 Games sucks and since the basis of the IOC’s decision was nebulous at best, I think there’s a good chance they’ll reconsider for the 2016 Games.

(MH) It seems there is a large disconnect between the millions of girls and women (through college) who compete in sports on a daily basis and the few of us who cover and follow women’s sports as adults (after college). What do you think about this? Do you think there is a market out there for adult females who want to learn about and follow women’s sports?

(JS) I’m sure there is a market for adult females who want to follow women’s sports – albeit a small one compared to the male market. At PrettyTough.com we try to focus not only on the sports but also on the lifestyle aspects. Our audience is one that lives a “sports-inspired life” and is also interested in the health, beauty, and entertainment aspects of athletics.

(MH) What do you think is essential in capturing this market? What is holding it back from taking off right now? Why aren’t advertisers interested and investing (i.e., Sports Illustrated for Women got dropped a few years back)?

(JS) As mentioned before, niche content and a targeted demographic provide marketers with great opportunities. The cost of producing and distributing a magazine is significant but there are a number of alternative methods for delivering content that provide marketers and advertisers with cost-effective solutions. Companies seriously looking at the bottom line recognize that women involved in sports and living a healthy lifestyle are a valuable demographic with enormous spending power and they should be finding efficient ways to reach them.

(MH) What do you think the future of women’s sports will be? Do you think we’ll generate more attention, or do you think it has leveled off?

(JS) I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as college sports has exploded in the past 20 years, women’s sports will be the next huge growth area. College basketball games used to be played in empty arenas  – the first nationally televised game wasn’t until 1968 (UCLA vs. Univ. of Houston). Today there are entire cable networks devoted to college sports and they’re big business for all involved. Women’s sports will follow a similar trajectory.

— I’d like to thank Jane Schonberger again for taking the time to speak to me. Her words and mission at Pretty Tough are critical in our ongoing fight to bring a voice to women’s sports online.

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