December 5, 2013

Werner Braun: Sports empower women

— For centuries, certain industries and occupations seem to have been dominated by one gender or another.

Carpet is one of those industries which had, for a long time, the reputation of being male dominated, as positions ranging from senior managers to shift work laborers tended to be filled by men.

That’s kind of ironic given the fact that it was a local woman, Catherine Evans Whitener, who revived the technique of tufting in the late 1890s. She is credited for creating what became known as the chenille bedspread industry, and as a result of reviving those tufting techniques a major industry was sparked — that of producing tufted carpets.

You could say that Catherine Whitener actually got the whole “ball of yarn” rolling, so to speak.

Times have changed, and fortunately, we have seen more and more women populating all facets of our industry, from senior-level leadership positions to physically demanding shift work.

College athletics was once considered to be primarily a man’s domain as well, but since 1972 with the introduction of Title IX opportunities for women’s teams and athletic programs have improved dramatically.

I was reminded of this recently following a program put on by the Stilettos and Grace Network that featured coaches from Dalton State College’s women’s athletic programs.

The women’s athletics programs have so far not received as much attention as have the men’s programs, primarily because sports like men’s basketball draw huge crowds of fans, students and community members alike. The very public success of the Roadrunners basketball team, which is playing extremely well in its first season since 1978, has garnered a lot of well-deserved press.

But while winning is great, an athletic program is not just about bringing in the most wins or even the most fans. It’s also about the intangibles that can shape an athlete’s future for the long haul.

Four coaches spoke during that recent program about their sport and what being an athlete has meant for each of them.

Bruna Langner, a native of Brazil, is Dalton State’s women’s volleyball coach. In Brazil, volleyball is a very big sport, and Bruna grew up playing at school and on her state team where they won a national tournament.

She came to play in the U.S. for Lee University, where she learned English by immersion and earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

“Thanks to my height, I got to come to the U.S., play with great teams, get two degrees and get this fabulous job,” she said.

Her young team, which won 10 games and lost 14 this season, is progressing well, she said.

“I couldn’t be happier to see my girls’ progress.”

Dalton native Michel Bates is director of tennis for the city of Dalton and for both the men’s and women’s tennis teams at the college.

She stressed the important role that sports play in terms of encouraging young people to become self-confident, self-disciplined and academically motivated. Michel argues that “sports empower women,” instilling such skills as problem solving, time management and multi-tasking.

“Sports builds character,” she said, “and provides a structure from which one can achieve other goals. It also helps young people learn to deal with adversity. Sports activities help level the playing field for women to be successful.”

Margie Bruner, the women’s cross country coach, began running 37 years ago, and credits a former coach who “believed in her” with inspiring her to excel in the sport. Like Michel, Margie believes that sports can help people overcome adversity and instill inner strength.

Marsha Whitener didn’t begin playing golf until she was 40, and now she’s coaching the women’s golf team.

Despite her late start, Marsha has won numerous golf tournaments in Dalton and is a Georgia Women’s senior winner.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still play,” Marsha said. “Golf is a sport you can grow old with.”

All of these coaches say they love working with the women athletes and encouraging them to excel in their academics as well as their chosen sports. And they all agree it’s a two-way street.

“We get something back from our athletes as well as them getting something from us,” said one.

Well said. And best wishes to all of the coaches and athletes at Dalton State, men and women alike.

Werner Braun is the president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.