The American Airlines Center looked like a cheer rally early Tuesday morning as dozens of high school girls joined the Dallas Mavericks in celebrating International Women’s Day.
It was a momentous occasion for the franchise as the event also marked the one year anniversary of the Mavs’ GEM program – which stands for Girls Empowered by Mavs.
During the pandemic, Mavs Academy Senior Youth Basketball Coordinator Kelli Robinson spent hours and hours on Zoom visiting girls ages 9-14.
She realized that this particular age group not only needed – but deserved – more attention, care and encouragement, and the Mavs agreed.
GEM was born from there, and the program has reached hundreds of young women across North Texas through numerous programs and outreach efforts. Celebrating International Women’s Day on Tuesday morning was an accumulation of countless efforts and kicked off Women’s History Month for the franchise.
This year is incredibly unique as it is the 50th Anniversary of Title IX, landmark legislation for gender equality in sports. Five decades ago, Congress advanced and passed legislation that forever changed the trajectory of women’s sports in the United States.
Federal law signed in June 1972 also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.
Sports teams across the country and locally are commemorating 50 years of advancing women’s sport with opportunities and initiatives throughout the next year. Dallas will also have a unique role as the NCAA IX title efforts and celebration will culminate in the 2023 Women’s Final Four in Dallas, where Divisions I, II and III will host their basketball championships.
The GEM program was launched at the perfect time.
On Tuesday morning, women’s sports teams from across North Texas, along with girls from Texas International Leadership Campuses, attended the EME International Women’s Day celebration in the lobby of the AAC. Guest speakers from the community spoke on a range of topics, then high school students broke into small groups with leaders from Mavs Academy.
“It’s all about you,” Dallas Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall said as she welcomed everyone to the event. “I want you to tell yourself that in the mirror every morning, everything revolves around you! Happy International Women’s Day! »
Dallas Mavericks assistant coach and WNBA superstar Kristi Toliver was the star guest at the women’s celebration and she arrived on Tuesday full of energy after the Mavs secured their fifth straight win on Monday night.
Toliver understands firsthand the importance of gender equality, and that was her message to young girls at the GEM celebration. She told young people never to underestimate their power.
“The message is pretty clear that women can do anything,” said Toliver, who won an NCAA championship with Maryland in 2006.
“You can do anything. I’m just kind of a vehicle and the bridge between the WNBA and the NBA, for sure. I’m so grateful to be in this position, but you’ll be in so much more important positions when it’s your turn. That’s why I take my job so seriously, both on the pitch and as a coach behind the lines. I want to do my best so that you can do what you want in life – and you will.
Toliver and Marshall spoke from the heart and emphasized the importance of dreaming big and pursuing your goals.
“I just had this belief that if I worked and was determined, and I sacrificed myself, and if I did all the right things, I was capable of anything,” Toliver told the high school girls. “And I am proof of that. So believe in yourself, believe in your friends. Use each other to achieve your goals, and anything is possible.
THE CREATION OF THE GEM PROGRAMM
The idea for GEM was born in January 2020 when Mavs Academy staff gathered in a conference room for a weekly meeting. Shortly after, Dallas Mavericks senior vice president Greg Nared noticed a text message on his phone.
It was from one of his former players who was ready to put an end to his basketball dreams. The young athlete had become too tired, frustrated and exhausted from the game. She felt like basketball was no longer enjoyable.
The text pierced the hearts of all Mavs Academy staff, and they immediately recognized the need for change. The girl had no idea that her plea for help would eventually spur the Mavericks into action, and it would become a pivotal moment in franchise history.
Robinson recalled Nared telling the group, “It’s a problem, and we have to try to help these girls, so what can we do?”
She immediately volunteered to help launch a new girl-inspired initiative created by the Mavs that would later become known as GEM.
“We wanted to develop a safe environment, emotionally and physically, for young girls to be themselves,” Robinson said. “We want to ignite that hope and that belief in them where they fully understand their potential.”
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, participation in activities like basketball has a positive impact on the health and well-being of young women, but twice as many girls drop out of sports by age 14.
There are several reasons for this, such as social stigma and the lack of positive role models to support and encourage young women.
With the support of the Mavs behind them, Robinson and the rest of Mavs Academy set out in hopes of creating lasting change and influence among girls between the ages of 9 and 14.
Robinson said the pandemic helped foster the early days of the GEM program, as the Mavericks virtually visited many young girls to help identify and then target their specific needs.
“We started with a focus group with 30 female Mavs Ball children,” Robinson explained. From there, the program flourished and held many camps, clinics and workshops.
GEM is a cutting-edge program designed to target the future generation of girls between the critical ages of 9-14. The program aims to inspire and empower young women through physical activity as a backdrop for their development and success.
The program is built around five main pillars: education, financial literacy, mental health, physical health and sport.
GEM runs workshops and camps under each specific pillar throughout the year, and many other activities are in the works for young student-athletes.
In March, to commemorate Women’s History Month, the Dallas Mavs and GEM will host various events throughout the month, including health clinics and workshops.
Last night before the Mavericks game, GEM hosted a female empowerment speaker event with UT Southwestern.
Speakers from the Mavs included Marshall, Tarsha LaCour (Chief People Officer) and SVP Erin Finegold White. Other representatives from UT Southwestern and TIAA also participated.
Today’s International Women’s Day celebration was hosted by another industry trailblazer, DJ Ivy Awino.
After the panel discussion at this morning’s celebration, the high school girls participated in a ‘learning fair’, where they had the opportunity to visit booths to learn about physical and mental health, opportunities career and more. TIAA sponsored the event.
Victor Cathey is executive director of athletics at International Leadership of Texas, and he brought several of his students to attend the Mavericks’ GEM event today. Over the past 20 years, Coach Cathey has also partnered with the Dallas Mavericks to work in camps and clinics, and he says the GEM program is amazing and unique in the community.
“I wish more people knew there were more resources at hand, especially with the Dallas Mavericks,” Cathey said. “A lot of us drive down I-35 every day and don’t realize the Mavericks are a resource. The organization is so much bigger than what they put on the basketball court.
“Yes, we are all fans and we love what Luka Doncic does, but the Mavericks are also a resource that want to help people in so many other ways. Yes, they have a great team, but they also cater The Mavericks Basketball Academy does a great job integrating basketball skills, and the GEM program we’re talking about today is exceptional and does great things for our young women.
Cathey said one thing he enjoyed with today’s GEM event was the discussion on finances.
“Many events designed for young women skip financial discussions and financial literacy with girls,” Cathey said. “So I was impressed that one of the speakers brought it up. Today the Mavericks did a phenomenal job with the other speakers who talked about wealth building and financial literacy. important areas that we still have to catch up on when it comes to equality with women, and I thought today’s topic was unique and important.
International Women’s Day is observed annually on March 8 and celebrates the “social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women,” according to the International Women’s Day website. The day also calls for action to advance gender equality.
The Mavericks were thrilled to celebrate this momentous day with future trailblazers who are already blazing unique trails.
It is young girls who are making history today and setting the tone for the next 50 years.
“A lot of people would say you represent our future, but you actually represent the present,” Marshall said. “You matter to us right now. You are doing great things right now with us.
UPCOMING GEM EVENTS:
- UT Southwest Fitness Workshop on March 15 at Girls Inc.
- UT Southwest Fitness Workshop with “Girls on the Run” March 23 at American Airlines Center