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City’s Girls n’ Women & Sport program plotting post-pandemic comeback

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By Hritika Jimmy

Once the pandemic is over, the City of Ottawa hopes to bring its once widespread Girls n’ Women and Sport program roaring out of a hiatus.

The program that city council launched in 1985 had helped draw more than 4,000 girls and women to participate in sport by 2009, according to a report by Canadian Women & Sport from that year.

Jean Ollsen, who has helped facilitate the program for three years, explained that it was born out of a necessity to get more young women playing and competing.

“Girls were being underserved in sport,” she said. “For every 5 boys participating in sport in the city, there were only 2 females.”

Since launching, Ollsen said the program has created new opportunities for girls and women of all ages and abilities. It’s also created new avenues in recent years, to help women discover novel sports, like spike ball.

Girls n’ Women and Sport works partly by partnering with different sports organizations, allowing them to share ways about how to attract new female participants.

It takes various unique approaches to engage women who might not usually play sports, with one example being an impromptu mother-daughter volleyball program that grew out of a weekly program for young girls.

“Many of the moms were sitting on the side watching (and) one of our instructors asked if one of the moms wanted to participate and she happily joined in,” Kelly Bean, the program’s manager, recalled of the 2019 sessions.

“Each week after that, a few more moms would bring their running shoes and would participate with their daughters.”

The pandemic has necessitated the program’s shutdown, including its entire slate of scheduled leagues and weekly sessions.

Once pandemic restrictions are lifted, and COVID-safe practices like mask-wearing and physical-distancing are a thing of the past, then the city’s program will return, Ollsen said.

“I think the future looks great for Girls n’ Women and Sport, after the restrictions are lifted,” Bean added.

“I think that need for socialization after a prolonged period of social distancing will make organized sports more popular than ever. It will be a great time to get young girls and women involved in sport again.”

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