By Laura Bagnarol
During the summer of 2013, I was all over the web looking for a sports camp for my easy-going, princess-obsessed, 4-year-old daughter. She was big into dance, which was fine by me but I was looking to introduce her to something different for the summer. She had participated in a few co-ed soccer programs that she liked enough but didn’t really love.
Growing up playing sports, I recognized I was totally biased but I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the idea of her playing a sport yet. I quickly found a ton of programs for her age that were either hyper-feminine or of the arts and crafts variety but not many team sports programs (other than soccer and tee ball.)
Linnea, 5, hikes the ball to Rhiona, 6, during football practice at the Pigskin Princess Project.
Permission granted from all parents to use photos.
Much to my delight, I ended up finding a co-ed sports camp for 3-5 year-olds. Although pricey and outside of the Hudson Valley, it looked great … on paper. It turned out to be a total disaster with one main reason being: they had no idea what to do with a 4-year-old girl. She was the only female of that age in the program. They infantilized her, put her with much older girls, and discouraged her. I didn’t send her back after the second day. During her short time at this camp, as I vented to family and friends about my experience, I kept hearing myself saying, “I could run a better program myself!”
Social Worker turned businesswoman turned football coach
Personally, I have always loved sports — any sport. In particular, throwing around a football was something I loved to do and could do well. As a woman (and now a parent), I struggled with the way our culture marketed to girls (and boys). Growing up, I lived for gym class and stickball games in our neighborhood cul-de-sac. I played sports in high school and have always loved me a good competition!
Gracie, 3, gets ready to throw like a girl at the Pigskin Princess Project.
Permission granted from all parents to use photos.
Professionally, before I had children, I worked with survivors of abuse (many of whom were overwhelmingly female). I saw the dangerous ways in which our culture silenced girls and became passionate about keeping children safe and teaching them to use their voices.
So, with my background being what it was, I kept coming back to this crazy idea of starting my own program and, as I toyed with the idea, it suddenly occurred to me to merge two things — football and princesses — together.
It was the perfect response to a culture that treated girls as one-dimensional beings who were only interested in all things pink, sweet, and sparkly! I imagined it being a program that was half football and half arts & crafts with the latter focusing on a particular princess and what made her smart and strong.
The Pigskin Princess Project is born!
With that, I turned this crazy idea into a reality and launched The Pigskin Princess Project at a local rec center in the summer of 2014. It teaches girls ages 3-8 the basics of flag football (no-contact) through different drills and agility exercises. They are taught how to properly throw and catch a football and learn how the game is played.
My program is specifically designed for any girl — she doesn’t have to be a certain “type” or big into sports at all. Parents are welcome to observe or participate! At the end of each session, we spend some time talking about a different princess or female athlete and the characteristics that make her just plain awesome. During our very last class, we create an empowering piece of art that incorporates the main themes of our discussions.
Giuliana, 5, flexes her muscles at football practice at the Pigskin Princess Project.
Permission granted from all parents to use photos
Girls are bombarded with celebrity culture and hyper-sexual images of what it means to be female. There are so many strong female athletes — everyday people — who are doing remarkable things. I think it’s important to tell their stories. In a nutshell, The Pigskin Princess Project introduces girls to a fun and exciting sport. It celebrates the diverse interests and talents that exist in all girls and encourages them to be bold, kind, ambitious beings.
At the start of this whole thing, I definitely heard some wild comments from people. One of my favorites was from a female family member who said girls shouldn’t really play football because they can “get hit in the breast” — a statement that is comical on oh so many levels! Have you (or your daughter) ever been told you couldn’t do something because you were a girl? What empowering programs for girls have you come across in the Hudson Valley?
Laura Bagnarol resides in Dutchess County with her husband and three children. Her next Pigskin Princess program will take place at Geering Park through Fishkill Recreation this spring.
Laura holds a Masters degree in Social Work from Fordham University. She has specialized in working to end men’s violence against women through providing crisis intervention and support services to survivors of all ages. Laura has also provided hundreds of trainings on the topic of interpersonal violence to a wide array of schools, underserved populations and professional organizations in and beyond the Hudson Valley. She has taught on the topics of domestic and sexual violence as an Adjunct Instructor at The College of New Rochelle and had the opportunity to present at the Faculty Resource Network’s 2011 National Symposium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her work as a prevention educator and crisis counselor has been highlighted in The Journal News.
Laura currently provides consultation regarding the endemic problem of men’s violence against women. She recently founded Feisty Fems, LLC to combat harmful gender stereotypes. The Pigskin Princess Project is her first program initiative.
For more information, contact Laura at 845.803.1749 or PigskinPrincessProject@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube!