Sports and Service: Worcester program championing change for girls

WORCESTER, Mass. — An innovative program in Worcester is bringing together sports and community service to change lives.

Worcester Union Athletics offers young women from all socio-economic backgrounds a chance to play on an elite club team for both basketball and softball. But one of the requirements to participate is a commitment to community service projects organized by the league.

Ninth grader Shirle Major dreams of “going to college and being successful and maybe playing in the WNBA.”

That’s the kind of thing program coordinator Sean Rose likes to hear, as it was his idea to form a club with two objectives.

"For me, there just wasn't enough opportunity for girls in the local community, and this was my way of giving back to the local community, and also helping myself at the same time, with having four daughters,” Rose said.

Even if there’s a little self interest in that statement, there’s even more good will for the community built into the program.

In recent weeks, the players have visited senior centers, collected food for the needy and cleaned up parks around Worcester.

Meg Mulhern, director of operations for Worcester Union Athletics, said, “We can show them, give back to your community in little snippets, and just give them a taste of it, and as they grow older, they are going to want to do it on their own, without us.”

Being out in the community is already making an impression on Ally Dube, a ninth-grade basketball player.

“It’s a lot of fun and it feels good to do things for other people,” she said.

Sports is often a perfect antidote to a lot of other forces teens face.

Meghan Stevens, another ninth-grade basketball player, said “It just helps us stay out of trouble basically. We have something to do all the time, and not get into the social media stuff too much.”

Research shows girls involved in sports have an improved self-image. They also develop a sense of teamwork that has been shown to increase the likelihood of success in their future careers.

Rose, who is also a Worcester City Councilor and a mental health professional, doesn’t need a study to tell him what he’s seeing playing out on the court in real time.

“I think this program can change the path and trajectory of one of these girl’s lives in a second," he said.

Worcester Union Athletics offers scholarships based on financial need.