In the past few years, Wheaton has taken many administrative steps, which range from Diversity, Equity & Access Leadership (DEAL) initiatives to introducing new boards under the Student Government Association (SGA) umbrella, towards becoming an inclusive space for all – to the point that some might say inclusivity and diversity have become Wheaton’s USP.
However, we have discovered that there is a glaring disparity between this administrative clamour and tangible impact at Wheaton, especially concerning sports – whether they are varsity, club or intramural. In a series of articles spanning the semester, we will try to answer the big question: Are sports at Wheaton truly inclusive?
This issue, our writers Peter Baier ’25 and Alyssa Myers ’23 delve deep into the recent flag football tournament and Ultimate Frisbee club respectively, investigating gender inclusivity in mixed sports at Wheaton.
Flag Football: Not So Fun.
by Peter Baier ‘25
Flag football kicks off intramural sports at Wheaton, and a lot of hype surrounds it. With 7 teams totaling around fifty competitors, flag football is a fun way for students to “stay physically active, de-stress from the workload of the new school year, and engage with fellow students,” said Judy Allen, who runs the intramural sports program.
However, only 2 female students signed up to play flag football this year. Taking the number of substitutes into account, less than 4% of players were female. This is the worst gender representation in the 4 years flag football has been played at Wheaton. Why was this the case?
When asked, a female student explained, “I was thinking about signing up, but it seemed too competitive.” Others too wanted to sign up, but were worried about the heated environment surrounding the games. This is surprising considering both Allen’s goal for the sport to be a fun de-stresser, and the non-contact nature of the sport. One of the female players who did sign up said, “I felt slightly intimidated by the guys on the other team. They were upperclassmen, and I think some of them were athletes. They were not necessarily doing anything wrong, except that it was getting too competitive. All the teams were, especially on the first day. Someone on my team even got injured.”
With sports, especially flag football it seems, there is an inherent competitive environment built around winning. As Allen put it, “people want to win; they like to win.” Getting to see athletes show off their skills and strive to win is what attracts people to the world of sports. However, contrary to what you might think, you’re not Tom Brady leading his team for another game winning drive. Cool T-shirts are a slight downgrade from winning the Lombardi Trophy.
Intramural flag football should not be taken so seriously. Not only does toxic competitiveness make the games less fun, but it discourages others from even playing. Intramural flag football isn’t only for retired high school football players or sports team athletes, who usually form individual teams in the league. Everyone should not only be allowed to participate in intramural sports, but also encouraged. Making students feel like they can only play if they are good, and that winning is the ultimate goal, contradicts the inclusivity Wheaton preaches.
Allen wants people to “have fun, be engaged, and be active.” It’s about taking a break from school work, working up a sweat, and building camaraderie among Wheaton students. Developing a culture of inclusivity in intramural sports, which is everyone’s responsibility at Wheaton, will not only make the games more enjoyable, but will create a more connected student community.
Gender in Wheaton Ultimate Frisbee
Author’s note: Quotes are from a documentary about Wheaton Ultimate Frisbee (WULF) made by Alum Althea Barrett.
About two years ago, Althea Barrett, ‘21 uploaded a documentary detailing the experience of WULF that year. Despite the heartwarming and wholesome nature of the documentary, it was hard to look past the barriers gender posed to female and non-binary students, inside the Wheaton team but more so when they were competing with other schools. Here are a few quotes from WULF players:
“Everyone’s so inclusive; no one excludes anyone from anything. There’s no skill level you have to be at to join and everyone just has fun.”
“When I first started I didn’t know anything about the sport. I came into it with literally no knowledge. The first practice that I went to, I was told not to play the actual drill. I was actually the only woman there. It was all men that day. They had me stand on the side and toss with the coach while they were all practicing. Once I started going to two more practices, and more women started showing up, it was definitely a different atmosphere.” – female player detailing her initial experience with the Wheaton Ultimate team.
“It’s been frustrating playing on mixed [team] because I really like playing against women and when we play against teams that don’t have any women, but they call themselves mixed, it is difficult to- i guess- play against men.”
“Playing an all men’s team is frustrating, I think on both ends. The guys who play on our, on Wheaton’s mixed team, don’t like playing all men’s because the women can’t necessarily cover all the men. And I get frustrated because as a woman, I am not able to cover the tall men who tower over me, and I can’t catch up to.”
“It’s not really fair to play against men who are giant -and not that we can’t, but it’s just really hard.”
“Some guys are not nice about it, but they get it: They won’t put super tall people [against female players] . But some other schools don’t do that.”
“These are mean boys. I don’t really like them, but I still feel like a badass.” – female player referring to an ongoing match with another team.
“Especially guys coming from all men’s teams, they just don’t even know how to play with women… like they just have never experienced it.”
“They don’t play against women so they don’t know how. [During] mixed matches, they like to exploit our weaknesses. Which I guess what sports are about, but not really.” – female player.
“I had never played with a mixed team before I came here and it was definitely a big learning curve, specifically how to throw two women. Certain patterns that they do are different from men. But I think it’s definitely helped me grow as a player and I’m planning to play mixed club probably for the rest of my life.” – male player.
Alyssa Myers ‘23 sheds light on gender inclusivity in the coed Ultimate Frisbee team today.
Ultimate Frisbee is a sport well-known for its inclusive and understanding environment. Something that sets it apart from other sports, in terms of the level of communication and understanding, is the fact that it doesn’t even have a referee which has the players rely on healthy communication from both teams, even during competitive game play. I have been on the Ultimate team at Wheaton since about halfway through my First Year. I started going to practices reluctantly because someone convinced me that I needed a place to expel some of my energy, and now I’m a Junior and the Fundraising Chair for the team.
Ultimate is a Club Sport at Wheaton open to anyone and everyone who wants to join and play. It is open to all genders, which I think is awesome and I turned to some of my teammates to see what they had to say.
My teammates that I interviewed seemed to unanimously agree that it is great that the team is open to anyone who wants to join. Max van Osdol ‘24 said that “I think it’s great! Ultimate is a really fun sport so it should be open to all people. I don’t think of it as being open to all genders, more so as it not being restricted to anybody.” I completely agree, the team being “open to all genders” was not really how I thought about it, I just thought it was a cool sport that was open to anyone. The team really isn’t restrictive in any regard, we don’t have tryouts and we teach people with little or no experience with frisbees, (like me when I first joined).
Katie Farley, ‘23 said that “I enjoy that Wheaton operates as a mixed team vs separate gendered teams. It offers a different dynamic on and off the field and allows us to closely practice and get to know every one vs. if we were separated.” The dynamic that exists on our team is special, unique and wouldn’t exist if the team wasn’t structured the way it is.
I then asked my teammates if they thought the team was supportive of all genders, and again, they unanimously agreed that we are a supportive team. Alex Lopez ‘23, President of the Ultimate Team, said that “I absolutely think that the team is supportive of all genders. Everyone is treated as a part of the team, and everyone learns the same things with the same goals in mind. It’s a game that is made for anyone and can be fully enjoyed by anyone, regardless of gender.”
I also asked about what my teammates thought about the acceptingness the Ultimate community as a whole, not just the acceptingness of all genders on the Wheaton team. Lopez responded that “Generally yes, I think the Ultimate community is supportive. There are occasionally some unpleasant people, but the vast majority are fun to play with and open to anything in my experience.” By unpleasant people I’m going to assume he means those who intentionally make unfair pairings about who defends whom from the other team. What can happen sometimes is, men, who are extremely tall and fast, will be paired with women who cannot physically match the men they are defending. This leads the man to get cocky and take advantage of the shorter and slower woman, who is typically skillful and knowledgeable, but is unfairly paired up and therefore treated disrespectfully. This situation is rare, but can happen at games, which is what Alex is likely referring to.
It was just recently, in 2020, that USA ultimate released a statement saying that “Within our divisions as they currently exist, USA Ultimate will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity, regardless of sex assigned at birth, or any other form of gender expression for participation in any division.” It’s good to see that USA Ultimate is finally making the right steps in terms of gender inclusivity, but it’s important to note that this was done only last year.
Lopez also added that “I want everyone to know that Ultimate Frisbee is a great sport that is both highly accessible and highly rewarding. You will find yourself improving quickly alongside other people in a great environment. If you have any interest at all, you’re always welcome at practices!” To this I have to say, he is absolutely right. If you have any interest in playing Ultimate Frisbee, feel free to come to our next practice, you’re more than welcome!
What’s the verdict?
by Khushi Parikh ‘25
WULF has undoubtedly come a long way in the last few years in terms of inclusivity. This is because of a combination of factors including the attitude of the governing body of the sport, the general nature of the sport and team camaraderie fostered on the team over the years. It is undeniable however, that imbalances persist in the intercollegiate games.
Flag football however, seems to have taken a starkly contrasting route despite the inherently fun nature of intramural sports. The initial barriers of entry as well as unfair disparity during play faced by female and non-binary players highlighted by the documentary 2 and a half years ago are still prevelant in flag football today. There is much Wheaton and its student body can do to combat this.
If you are/were an athlete, or even if you aren’t, and want to contribute to this conversation, please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Look out for articles in this series in the upcoming issues!