Rayla Allison, left, and Shelly Boyum-Breen are on the board of directors of Foundation IX, a local group of women who want all girls to have access to playing sports. Photo by Brooke Broten.
Rayla Allison, left, and Shelly Boyum-Breen are on
the board of directors of Foundation IX, a local group of women who want all girls to have access to playing sports. Photo by Brooke Broten.
Sports mean a lot to Shelly Boyum-Breen. She's a lifelong athlete, a former coach and physical education teacher. She has worked in the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx organizations. But she is also keenly aware that many girls and women do not have the same opportunities that she's had to make athletics a part of their lives. "I think about all the girls who aren't able to play, who really want to or don't even know it's an option for them," said Boyum-Breen. "I wanted to find a way to connect [my work with girls and in sports] and make it meaningful, so Foundation IX was created."

Established last summer, Foundation IX seeks to remove cost as a barrier to girls' participation in organized physical activities. Boyum-Breen invited women from the Twin Cities business, athletic and academic spheres who shared a desire to advocate for girls' sport participation to form Foundation IX's Board of Directors: Nancy Hite, retired CEO of YWCA of Minneapolis; Rayla Allison, attorney and professor of sports marketing at the University of Minnesota; Joanne Grobe, creative partner at velvetpeel, Inc., a communications and public relations firm; and Angela Taylor, vice-president of business development with the Minnesota Lynx.

Although the foundation's name evokes Title IX, its goals are broader than the 1972 legislation prohibiting gender discrimination in programs offered by federally funded educational institutions. "[Girls'] participation in sport outside of a school setting is not covered [by the law]," explained founding board member and Title IX attorney Rayla Allison. "Our mission is to break down any financial barriers for girls wherever it may be, whether it's in schools or recreationally or on an elite competitive team."

For this purpose, Foundation IX will offer biannual "Let Me Play" participation grants for Minnesota girls between 5 and 19 years of age. "The basic concept is to help a girl begin or continue to participate," Boyum-Breen said. At any level that a girl is looking to participate, whether it's for the first time or to continue developing athletic skills, these grants can offset the cost of equipment, deposits and other fees associated with fitness programs. Qualifying activities can range from karate lessons and dance classes to swimming and hockey-any organized program that emphasizes physical activity.

Studies show a positive relationship between youth sport participation and healthy adulthood, but both Allison and Boyum-Breen point out many other benefits beyond physical health. With the guidance of coaches and support of teammates, active girls are less likely to be involved in abusive relationships, to become pregnant or to drop out of school. And many successful women, including Foundation IX's board members, cite their early participation in organized activities with developing leadership skills, a strong work ethic and positive attitudes.

Foundation IX may be less than a year old but it has hit the ground running. In August, forms and details about applying for "Let Me Play" grants will be available on its website, www.foundationix.org, and individual grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded in November. The foundation hopes eventually to endow groups that provide fitness programs and to award educational scholarships to girls who intend to continue their sports participation after high school. According to Allison, taking the foundation to a national level is a long-term goal.

Even though Foundation IX's grant program is just getting set up, board members have already put their ideals into action by sponsoring the Farview Park Lady Cardinals basketball team in north Minneapolis. The Lady Cardinals' coach, Gregg Morton, has seen both the rewards and costs of sport participation. Morton has watched the players' self-esteem grow along with their athletic skills. But the two-time state champions have had to decline national tournament invitations because the girls can't afford to travel out of state. This winter, Foundation IX paid the team's entry fees for a local holiday tournament, but since grant money was not yet available, the board and management reached into their own pockets for the necessary funds. And then, as an added bonus, the Lady Cardinals won the tournament.