We’re pleased to introduce Kip O’Rourke Brown, Senior Program Director at Play Rugby USA. A true sportsman, Kip has been involved in organized athletics from childhood and upon moving to New York City in 2007, Kip began managing and directing after-school programs in public schools in all 5 boroughs. Kip is deeply passionate about using sport to promote youth’s development academically, physically, socially and emotionally in order to be empowered within schools and society.
This is the first installment of a quarterly series from Kip on the progress of Play Rugby USA’s programming design, some insights into the world of sports based youth development, and personal stories of the impact of sport on youth development. To begin this series Kip shares his experience growing up in a household of women passionate about sports, and how this shaped his perception of women’s athletics.
Perception is Reality
by Kip O’Rourke Brown
I remember vividly when I first signed up for organized sports at the age of 5. I showed up to register for baseball on a cold winter day in February, many weeks from thawed grounds without snow cover. They knew I was ready, because I brought my glove with me (my 5 year old logic was probably that somebody there had a ball and a glove too, maybe we could throw it around, just maybe!) At this point, my Mother of 5 years was not going to waste any energy bringing me back to reality, that my glove probably was an unneeded prop and no baseball will be played on this day, I would have to wait until practice would begin later in the spring.
I reflect on this moment, because from then until now, nearly 3 decades, sport has had such an impactful role on my personal and professional development. But it wasn’t until I accidentally or fortuitously found Play Rugby USA at a middle school in Brownsville that I became aware of sports deep impact on me. I would go on to volunteer at the 2010 NYC Rugby Cup (formerly NYC Mayors Cup) and then volunteer at the Manhattan RFC at Chelsea Waterside Park. I would later join PRUSA in Spring 2011 to undertake the design and implementation of a comprehensive sports-based youth development program, now known as the Sports Leadership Academy. This program has experienced great success at building a community of kids, parents, siblings, and coaches around PS208, PS75 and Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School. I’ve now been provided the opportunity, as Senior Program Director, to move into a role within PRUSA to help all of the programs in NYC, LA and SF/Bay Area to Go Forward and reach its full potential! Through sharing some thoughts, ideas, and stories within the PRUSA blog I hope to articulate how our program team here at PRUSA aspire to support youth development through sport and physical activity.
When we reflect on the past it is an interesting phenomenon, because our current self has many more experiences and is hopefully more knowledgeable than our past self. Events look different, places look different, people look different.
An example of this shift in focus can be seen in the movie Shrek. From the moment we learn that sundown transforms princess into an ogre; we focus on different details. We now focus on the insensitive assumptions made by Shrek and are focused on an empathy within the princess that was present before, but not seen, because we weren’t focused. New information and context shifted our lens.
This happened in my life, as recently as the Spring of 2013, as I was working on my Masters Degree at NYU’s Steinhardt School. I was asked to reflect on my educational achievements, I graduated high school, check, graduated college, check, entered graduate school, check. However, the assignment also required an ‘inspiration’ or ‘influence’ on my educational achievements.
I focused on my grandmother. She inspired me and lead by example. I never focused on the context of her educational achievements, because she never did. For her, it wasn’t extraordinary for girls or women to be full and equal part of sport and society. So the context of her achievements therefore weren’t relevant, from her perspective, to emphasize to me. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that I was able to focus my historical lens on the amazing details surrounding my grandmother’s accomplishments. In the late 1950’s, after earning her college degree in Physical Education, she continued her studies at Columbia’s Teachers College, and would go on to earn her Master’s in Physical Education. Amazingly, she do so while pregnant with my aunt and my mother a toddler.
The context for me as an adult reflecting on the attitude towards Women in American society and Women in sport was highly informative. Generally, Women in the 1950’s did not have the level of rights and opportunity they deserve and the vestiges of those societal norms remain with us today. There are many important voices in all walks of life that speak to those issues eloquently. Here, I choose to focus on sport.
My grandmother was at nearly every single one of my baseball games growing up and most of my basketball games. This is not a small feat, given I played baseball from 5 years old to 18 years old, and at one point ages 14-16 I played for 3 different teams. Her commitment to me in sport was flawless. Her commitment to my sister in sport was equally flawless. My sister was also highly engaged in sports, participating in softball, basketball, and ice-skating. My mother was highly active in my Little League Baseball League and team throughout.
This context informed the lens I used for many of the years in my life, a woman in sport is not exceptional, it is the norm. It wasn’t until I was asked to reflect on my education, that I recognized the unique space that my grandmother would have occupied in graduate school for physical education in the late 1950’s. The matter of fact attitude she had towards sport, as she played all growing up, was what I considered the view of everyone.
Since joining PRUSA and the Sports-Based Youth Development (SBYD) field I soon learned that there are far too many people and communities in the U.S. and around the globe that view Women’s and girl’s exclusion from sport as normal. The underlying beliefs and attitudes of these views are disappointing and disheartening. However, I find myself in a position now, where I can begin to shed light on some of the false choices and opportunities missed for girls and Women in sports that are due to this narrow thinking. Sport and play are awesome and necessary for all young people. These opportunities should be equally available to all, however, as we know, with historical disadvantage, many times, equality is not possible without equity. In other words, organizations that promote sport and create opportunities, where they would not otherwise exist, must emphasize opportunities for girls and Women in sport.
Title 9 is an excellent example of one tool society created to promote equality and equity. PRUSA is committed to providing opportunities for girls and Women in rugby. Our program is committed to having our participation at every age-level to have the same or more opportunities for girls. An example of this is that we offer girls-only brackets at most of our middle school tournaments in addition to co-ed brackets. This provides more opportunities for girls to participate. It also respects their individuality as they can participate in the space that resonates with the development of their own identity.
The pop culture imagery across America for Women is that they appear natural and have perfection from every angle. We should all recognize that this can be damaging to our society and to girls and women. We can instead add to the inclusive development of sport to support a positive image of Women in Sport. This is an obligation we owe our future selves, so that when we look back, we wonder, why we ever thought Women should be excluded from sport.
Watch this space for more from Kip throughout the year, and follow us on facebook and twitter for the latest and greatest from Play Rugby USA.