It was an amazing, down-to-the-buzzer championship game. The Saint Ignatius College Prep Girls Basketball Team finished with 66 points to Norcross High School's 67 points. But this story is about so much more than the score.
The final match up in the tournament was part of something called Grow the Game. It is an event for women, by women, born on a freezing January day in 2019 when Cara Doyle, the Saint Ignatius Girls Basketball Coach, met with Teri Rodgers from New Trier, Kristi Faulkner from Glenbard West, Ashley Luke Clanton from Mother McAuley and Corry Irvin from Whitney Young.
At the time, Doyle says women coached only 25% of girls basketball teams in the state of Illinois. It's why the group talked about how they could be more represented in their own game - from coaching to referee work.
Flash forward to this past week's shootout and tournament. Grow the Game, now in its third year, uses female officials exclusively, and all teams involved are coached by women.
"The images of women coaching, officiating and playing in all the games is profound," says Doyle. "This year, the male coach of Vernon Hills entered his team, and his female assistant coach led the team during their shootout game. It was a great way for him to empower her, and it allowed us to create space for all teams that believe in our mission."
There's really good news on that front. Participation grew to 35 teams in 2023. Some traveled long distances, including Norcross from Georgia. The host sites were Lyons Township and Stevenson High Schools and North Central College. Doyle says Grow the Game's goals have not changed. They include: -Showing girls there are opportunities to compete, lead and collaborate to make basketball better. -Highlighting equity in the sport. -Creating a series that spotlights the best players in the game.
"I just hope it becomes such a normal thing that when our girls walk into a gym, and see a woman on the bench, they can assume that's the head coach," says Doyle, who works to make sure Grow the Game endures. She shares, "We reach out to friends in different states and say, 'Hey, you should do this in your state. Let's make this a national movement.'"