Women in the Game Conference Inspires, Motivates, Enlightens
There was a definite vibe in the room during the Sept. 24 USA Basketball Women in the Game conference held in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay.
The feeling was difficult to sum up in one word, but here’s a few that captured the moment: Motivating. Passionate. Enlightening.
A person who played a key role and hosted the event was Jennifer Lynne Williams, the recently hired USA Basketball Foundation chief development officer. Williams definitely felt the vibe.
“It was uplifting and inspiring, and there was a tremendous amount of great energy,” Williams said. “I think all of the presenters wanted to share that they were being transparent and they were being vulnerable. A lot of young women see the success, but they sometimes don’t see the failures, or the hardships people go through. It was good to hear our speakers talk about some challenges they’ve faced in the industry, because you don’t want to give the perception that it’s all good.”
The USA Basketball Women in the Game conference was created in 2017 to inspire and educate high school girls, female college students and young professional women who are interested in pursuing careers in the sports industry, and the event has been held twice a year. After being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Las Vegas event was the first Women in the Game conference to return.
One opportunity for some attendees will be securing a six-week mentorship that connects them with an experienced professional in the sports industry. The women who are selected as mentees will have the opportunity to develop personal and professional goals, gain new perspectives and advance their current or future careers. Weekly discussion topics will guide the interaction between the mentee and mentor through phone and email communications.
During the event, a highly accomplished panel of women spoke to those in the room and also those watching online. Each shared a personal message, but also potentially life-altering advice.
“This is a wonderful event, and anytime you can give women from different walks of life, from students to young professionals, access to our presenters and speakers who are just doing amazing things in sport, I think it’s going to create phenomenal opportunities,” said Williams, a two-time basketball team captain at the University of North Carolina and former Alabama State University athletic director. “I believe in networking being intentional, and I believe in bringing people together. That’s what Women in the Game does. The ladies here are engaged, and they are asking questions. It’s an intimate space where they can really pick the brains of these female leaders.”
In all, the lineup of speakers consisted of:
- Melissa Barlow, NCAA Final Four official
- Rushia Brown, Los Angeles Sparks director of community relations and youth sports
- Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces president
- Rhonda Lundin Bennett, University of Nevada, Reno senior associate athletic director, senior woman administrator
- Jacqie McWilliams, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association commissioner
- Chineze Nwagbo, Peace Players Baltimore interim director
- Dr. Kacey Oiness-Thompson, UNLV Athletics director of counseling and sports psychology
- Natalie White, Los Angeles Sparks interim president & chief operating officer
Attendee Hawley Woods Gray, a former college volleyball player and author of “Push Through: Your Ultimate Success Playbook,” was impressed with the event and understands how playing sports and working in the industry can be beneficial to women of all ages.
“This is a great opportunity to listen and meet these speakers, and learn about how to get into the industry,” Gray said. “Sports teaches us so much, from time management, to thinking on your feet, to other life skills that translate directly to the marketplace.”
Fargas, the Las Vegas Aces president, is a strong believer of how Women in the Game will make a real-world impact.
“This event is not something that’s just put on the calendar. It’s an event that’s transformational,” Fargas said. “It will drive those in attendance and those who are participants to be better than what they were when they walked in here.”
While the conference was designed primarily for women, Williams said males play an important role in empowering women in sports.
“A lot of men feel intimidated to come to events like this, but as women, we need male champions,” Williams said. “We need them to lift us up and help us and hire more women. And when you get them involved, help them advance, because some of their struggles are going to be different than some of the males.”
During her welcome speech, Williams said Women in the Game should lead to more women shattering glass ceilings and breaking barriers.
“Having representation in sports is major, and this event allows for women who are trying to break into the sports industry or change careers to really see what that looks like,” Williams said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s rewarding. And in the overall picture, when you bring diverse thoughts and people to the table, it only makes for a stronger organization.”