As a former collegiate athlete and current high school physical education teacher, Coach Tamara Stafford-Kirk knows just how important it is for girls to participate in sports. Stafford-Kirk grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, before leaving home to run track at Campbell University in North Carolina, but she decided to return home to teach.
"This is where I wanted to come and make a difference, so I got away for a little bit, but this is where I wanted to settle and live my life," says Stafford-Kirk.
For the past 18 years, she has been teaching and coaching at Bristol Central High School. In the fall, she coaches the cross-country team, which won both boys and girls city championships in 2014, and during the spring, she coaches the boys track team. All told, Stafford-Kirk's teams have nabbed 40 conference championships in that time.
But by being both a teacher and coach at the school, she sees first-hand how sports can be beneficial for a girl's overall character development.
"Another thing I notice, as a high school teacher, is that girls can be really tough on one another. There is a lot of the bullying and nitpicking that goes on, and a lot of times it's a girl on girl, and you hate to see that," she says. "I think on sports teams, girls learn to appreciate one another. They come to appreciate one another so much more."
In recent years, many high school athletic programs have experienced a loss of funding through budget cuts. Fortunately, Stafford-Kirk and Bristol Central have been able to avoid major setbacks thanks to an active booster club at the school. "The booster club for me is so amazing because they support the athletes so well," Stafford-Kirk says. "It's a small group of parents that really works hard to raise money to support our athletic program."
Despite the school's booster efforts, Bristol Central has not been immune to budgetary and participant challenges.
Jodi Corbin has been president of the club for the past four years, and she has seen a decrease in membership. Corbin speaks at team meetings at the beginning of each season, asking parents to join the booster club by paying a yearly $20 fee.
"It seems that over the past few years with the economy, some people just don't have it and they aren't able to help," says Corbin. "[The booster club] really should be much bigger with the size of the school and the large number of kids playing sports, but with economy it's hard."
The boosters also receive a large portion of their funds through concession sales, but Corbin says the big crowds mainly show up for the men's indoor sports.
However, Stafford-Kirk encourages girls to play sports because she knows how beneficial they can be, both physically and mentally. "The physical benefits are what everybody sees and what everybody thinks about, but to me the emotional benefits are so much more important," she says. "Through sports girls gain so much confidence and belief in themselves."