Changing the Game

Endicott students, coaches, and alumni have been breaking down barriers in women’s sports long before it was trendy.

Sports fans
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In late March, Heather Bacon ’22, an Emmy award-winning Content Associate at SportsCenter on ESPN, was still feeling the intense adrenaline rush from covering the 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship the week before.

A whopping 18.7 million viewers felt the same way on their couches at home, watching the phenomenal final game and setting a historic record for women’s sports viewership.

A digital media major at Endicott, Bacon worked in Endicott’s Office of Sports Information, which spurred her passion for a career in sports media. The day she connected with Soundings, she was editing video footage of a recent live appearance on SportsCenter from Dawn Staley, Head Coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks, the women’s basketball team that bested Iowa in the showdown that broke the internet.

Heather Bacon ’22

“Staley was such a fantastic speaker that we didn’t cut a thing from the original interview,” said Bacon with a grin.

Fans were hungry for all of it, too.

“The women’s championship brought in more viewers than the men’s this year,” Bacon observed. “It’s just the start, too. The WNBA is starting soon, and Caitlin Clark will be in it. You have the Professional Women’s Hockey League breaking attendance records left and right.”

She believes more fans of all genders are leaning into women’s sports because of increased access to paid and unpaid streaming services, social media, and exposure to talented women journalists reporting on it.

Among those journalists Bacon looks up to at ESPN include commentators Elle Duncan, Andraya Carter, and Holly Rowe. “We have more women journalists reporting on women’s sports now—not just male journalists reporting on athletes’ looks or other irrelevant details. They’re focusing on athletic capability,” Bacon said.

For years now, Endicott has quietly turned out some of the sports industry’s best and brightest broadcast journalists, videographers, editors, and multimedia reporters. Among them is Rachel Pearson ’08, former co-captain of Endicott’s women’s softball team. After graduation, Pearson funneled her passion for sports into an influential career as Lead Video Editor at ESPN; last year, Pearson took home an Emmy for her contribution to SportsCenter.

The rising national passion for watching and investing time and money in women’s sports isn’t just a trendy TikTok moment—it’s a movement that’s only growing stronger.

“Women’s sports have been fun, enjoyable, and impressive for a long time and it’s disappointing that it’s taken people this long to figure that out,” said Shawn Medeiros, Director of Sports Information.

While showing up to support women’s sports may feel fresh at other schools, at Endicott, the fact that it’s nothing new is something that Gulls take pride in. “Women’s sports are the leader in the clubhouse here,” said Medeiros. “Historically speaking, if you look at our athletics programs, women’s lacrosse, softball, and soccer really set the foundation for the men’s teams to succeed.”

As an all-women’s school until 1993, the College has always been at the forefront of championing women’s sports, both courtside and in the classroom. To that end, men’s teams show up to women’s athletic contests—and vice versa—both to support one another and to take notes on improving their games.

This year, there were more than 380 female student-athletes at the Nest who competed in over 280 athletic contests. Some of them set new records, such as equestrian senior rider Anna Berd ’24 who became the first student-athlete in school history to win a varsity individual national championship.

“Endicott women’s sport for the first decade in the NCAA propelled all sports on campus,” said Dina Gentile, Professor of Sport Management and Esports Management, and the first women’s soccer coach at the DIII level at Endicott. “If we did not have success and high-level coaches on the women’s side at Endicott, we would not have the teams on the men’s side that we see thriving today.”

That fact came to light best when she recently overheard a male coach recruiting a top prospect. “We want to be like the women’s soccer team,” Gentile recalled him saying. “They know how to win!”

She added: “That’s when you know the impact of what you do on and off the field is powerful and far-reaching.”

Dina Gentile, Professor of Sport Management and Esports Management

Gentile takes tremendous joy in watching record-breaking deals for college athletes, female athletes’ jerseys selling out in hours upon release and being worn by people of all genders, and the rise of the Caitlin Clark effect.

Beyond journalism, Endicott students are innovating how women’s sports will be reported on and consumed in the future. Two of them are 2024 graduates of the sport management program, a department with a 30-year history on campus. Student-athletes Charlotte Spies and Celia Mastromattei concepted and pitched their Empower: Women in Sport app at the 2023 Spark Tank competition hosted by the Colin and Erika Angle Center for Entrepreneurship. Now, they’re seeking funding to take it to the next level.

“The idea would be to exclusively feature women’s sports on the first app of its kind,” Mastromattei explained.

Viewers could log on to check out highlights, statistics, content, and place bets. “The idea is to boost engagement since women’s sports have only received five percent of television airtime. We want to give women’s sports a fair chance to create just as big of a fan base,” she said.

Gentile is confident that more airtime, more excitement, and fairer pay is coming for women in sports.

“March Madness was owned by women this year,” she continued. “The perception that women’s sport is a lesser product than men’s sport has been squashed.”

The game is indeed changing fast and for the better.