Those before and after — Honoring women in sports at Charlotte

Categories: Students Tags: For Students

March is Women’s History Month, a time spent appreciating the contributions of women across time. This month, I would like to highlight an ever-expanding sector of women: Women in sports. Women are breaking glass ceilings throughout the sports world as athletes, coaches, creatives, staff, and directors. This community of women is mighty, expanding upon the legacies of those that came before to create space for those that come after. Here are the stories of just a few remarkable women in sports at Charlotte.

Aliya Ward

Meet Aliya! A graduating senior, Ward has been cheering since she was 4 years old. She has been a part of the Charlotte 49ers Cheer team for three years and currently serves as one of the game day captains and senior leaders. The Charlotte 49ers Cheer team is vital to many aspects of Niner Nation. “One thing I wish people knew about being a cheerleader at Charlotte is how hard we work,” Ward said. Cheer supports three primary sports and a plethora of University events. They also compete at college nationals in Daytona. “It takes a lot of organization and dedication to complete all of those tasks and responsibilities while prioritizing being a student. It can be a lot of work; however, it is extremely rewarding. At Charlotte, I have been provided many opportunities to meet new people and make connections for my future, and I have met some of my best friends through Charlotte Cheer.” After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in May, Ward plans on going to graduate school for an MBA while living and working in the Charlotte area. What does it mean to you to be a woman in sports at Charlotte? “Being a woman in sports at Charlotte has meant everything to me. I dreamed of being a college cheerleader, but I didn’t know if that was possible. Often times women are seen as less than within sports, so they aren’t given the same opportunities. At Charlotte, we can weightlift, access trainers and doctors, be active within the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and so much more. I love showing little girls in my community that cheerleading is a sport and create a representation of female athletes in traditionally male-dominated spaces.” Is there a woman at Charlotte who inspires you? “There is an alumna that was on my team that I really look up to. Her name is Ryen Boleware, and she was the first Golden Niner at Charlotte last year. Ryen and I have been teammates and friends for seven years. She has shown me what dedication, passion, and perseverance look like in sports, as well as in life. Ryen puts her best foot forward in every situation and inspires me to do the same.” Evyn Dean

Meet Evyn! She has an extensive history with sports, playing competitive soccer and running cross country for most of her life. Her love for soccer is what inspired her drive to work in sports. “It was a tough choice, but I decided I was ready to start focusing on working in sports rather than being a student-athlete. When I made this choice before beginning college, I came to Charlotte with a desire to get into sports as fast as possible,” Dean stated. She reached out to Charlotte Athletics staff and now serves as a member of the creative team.

Dean said, “I’m so excited to see the future of women in sports here. The women here are some of the hardest workers I know, and I’m just glad to be a very small part of this group.” She is immensely inspired by Charlotte alumna, Gabby Hutter. “Gabby took me under her wing last year with open arms and opened up my eyes to the beauty of working in sports. Her passion for creativity is inspiring, and it was awesome to see her kill it with the Los Angeles Rams this past season,” Dean states.

After graduation, Dean dreams of working with the Carolina Panthers. “I am excited to see where sports take me, and though the Panthers are the goal, I am extremely open-minded to other teams, sports, and even levels whether it is professional or collegiate. I’m excited to try them all.”

Tell us a little about your history with photography. What does your role entail with Charlotte Athletics?
“My history in photography honestly does not go back far as I started only last year. My creativity, on the other hand, takes me back to my childhood. I began illustration at a young age and continued it through the years. In 2020, I began taking commissions for my paintings. I fell in love with creating and wanted to take it in another direction and that brought me photography. My role entails aiding in managing our school’s main Instagram page for athletics — @Charlotte49ers — under the control of our marketing department. This role entails putting out regular and consistent content, as well as running Instagram stories for in-game events. I also hold a position as a creative media intern. This involves shooting a variety of events for our school, such as basketball, football, soccer, baseball, etc. After each game, I put in a few hours of editing to add the finishing touches.”

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to begin a career in sports?
“My advice to anyone looking to begin a career in sports would be to make connections and reach out to anyone and everyone that you possibly can. I’ve realized quickly that the sports world is small, and everyone knows everyone. A large misconception about working in sports is that you need to know every stat about every team. Working in sports isn’t about what you know but who you know. That said, making connections is crucial to getting your name out there. There are so many different areas to work within sports. There are the creative aspects, analytics, operations, coaching, and athletic trainers, and sometimes you may not know what category you’re interested in until you begin to talk to people within each area. When it comes to being creative in sports, my advice is that you can be as good as you want to be with practice. Make connections, sign up for games, and work as much as you can. Practice is the only way to get better.”

Cali Harrison

Meet Cali, an assistant director of marketing. Harrison has been at Charlotte since 2021. In her role, she manages marketing and promotions for multiple teams across Charlotte Athletics. Some of her responsibilities include social media coordination and overseeing a group of athletics marketing interns.

Being a woman in sports at Charlotte is extremely meaningful to her. “What it means to me being a woman in sports at Charlotte is helping show my interns that sports isn’t just a man’s world,” Harrison stated. She emphasizes how important it is to be able to find a community within the world of sports and beyond. “I have had the privilege to work with some of the best in my department who have helped me in my career and with my personal growth. It also helps me lead by example — that I can do just as good as someone else and know just as much about sports as someone else,” Harrison said.

What is your favorite memory during your time at Charlotte?
“My favorite memory is being at the selection show for women’s basketball for the NCAA tournament and seeing how excited everyone was to see who they would be playing after winning the 2022 CUSA tournament.”

Do you have any advice for women looking to enter a male-dominated field like sports?
“Don’t be afraid to be yourself and always speak your mind. If you have an idea, even if you think it may not be great, don’t be afraid to say it because someone could help elaborate on that idea, and in the end, you could create something awesome! Also, continue to work hard and prove everyone wrong if they don’t think you can do it just because you are a woman in sports. Keep grinding but also take it all in because when you pay attention to what’s happening around you, you will learn more than when you aren’t.”

Miracle Pearsall

Meet Miracle! She joined the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball staff in 2021 and currently serves as the recruiting and operations assistant. “My role for men’s basketball is a support role. It entails three areas: operations, recruiting and administrative duties,” Pearsall explained. She supports the overall needs of the program, including daily operations and recruitment endeavors, as well as producing graphic design and photography. Pearsall said, “No day is exactly the same, which I love, but if I had to choose, my favorite part of my day would be practice/game days. Witnessing the energy and chemistry this team has, and the amount of work they put in firsthand is truly something special to see.

A piece of advice that Pearsall lives by is to strive to be an asset to those around her. “I think it is important to always desire to add value in any role. One thing I hold as my personal goal is to leave a place better than I found it. I do not necessarily want to be remembered for what I did but for how I’ve made those around me feel. I think the very reason I’ve been blessed with the opportunities I’ve had is that I keep this in the forefront of my mind. I know what my strengths are, so I use them to my advantage to be an asset, while using my weaknesses to push me to become a better professional.”

What does it mean to you to be a woman in sports at Charlotte?
“It means a lot, honestly. Charlotte is a great place to work. I feel supported in various ways, from the top down, especially as a Black woman in sports, and I think that is a testament to the leadership of [Athletics Director] Mike Hill. I get to see women who look like me in spaces that you traditionally don’t, which is everything to me. More specifically, Coach Sanchez does a phenomenal job as a head coach of fostering a safe space for us and being present. I’ve never worked directly with a coach more personable and approachable than him. As a woman in a male-dominated field, feeling seen and heard are things we often fight for and I’m so grateful that isn’t an obstacle for me here.”

Is there a woman at Charlotte who inspires you or you look up to?
“Sheana Vega, the director of basketball operations for our women’s basketball program. Sheana and I both attended Liberty together, and it has been a joy watching her career unfold and seeing our professional paths cross again here at Charlotte. She has been incredibly encouraging to me on my journey in sports, even when the opportunities weren’t present. Genuine friendship is hard to come by, so being able to lean on someone like her has impacted me for the better.”