Manhattan Professor Advocates for Women in Sports on National Stage
Physical Education Professor Shawn Ladda completes term as president of National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.
Throughout her 17 years at Manhattan College, Shawn Ladda, Ed.D., a professor in the Kinesiology department, has transformed her office into a homegrown museum of history.
Lining the walls of her second floor space in Alumni Hall are posters from every Women’s World Cup Soccer Final since the event started in 1999 – all of which she’s attended. There’s also a Brown v. Board of Education placard, a framed photo with Chelsea Clinton, and a basketball signed by WNBA star Maya Moore. On top of a file cabinet sits a Wheaties cereal box from the 90s picturing soccer star Brandi Chastain.
The growing collection of memorabilia serves to remind Ladda of why she’s chosen a career as an educator and advocate, and to provide her with the motivation to continue.
Most recently, Ladda finished a two-year term as president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS), a century-old organization of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) dedicated to advocacy, education and the promotion of athletic opportunities for girls and women.
“It’s been a super experience in terms of growing professionally — public speaking, writing, having the opportunity to advocate,” she says.
One special opportunity presented itself in early February when hundreds of NAGWS representatives gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with Congress. This year, the advocacy celebration was particularly special, as the group commemorated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the 1972 law that guaranteed equal educational and athletic opportunities for men and women.
During her visit to the capitol, Ladda paired with Elizabeth Yates, program assistant for the National Women’s Law Center education and employment program, and Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar. The group had the special opportunity to meet with Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights legend John Lewis to hear his story and garner support.
“He’s such a champion,” Ladda says. “At that point, you’re sitting among people who get it.”
Shattering the Glass Ceiling
Ladda wasn’t always in such great company. She grew up playing soccer in Hershey, Pa., on her brother’s club teams because competitive opportunities were not available for girls. She continued to feel the disparity at Pennsylvania State University when the school’s athletic program wouldn’t boost her club team to varsity status or provide funding for post-season play. In 1982, Ladda and her soccer team filed a Title IX complaint.
Inspired to be a role model, she championed for opportunity while coaching women’s soccer on the collegiate level at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University.
“It’s important to have outstanding female mentors. It empowers you, and you think, ‘if she can, I can,’” Ladda says. “I wish we didn’t need the NAGWS’s of the world, but we do, because it’s not fair.”
During her two years as president of NAGWS, Ladda had the chance to meet many empowering people — most notably, President Barack Obama at a WNBA White House reception and First Lady Michelle Obama at the launch of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
She’s also been able to follow in the footsteps of two personal mentors — Penn State faculty member Lucille Magnusson (1967 NAGWS president) and Springfield College professor of physical education Mimi Murray (1987 NAGWS president).
To ensure the legacy of NAGWS, Ladda helped establish the Program for the Advancement of Girls and Women in Sport and Physical Activity at UNC Greensboro, which collaborates with many women’s organizations throughout the country.
“When I think of Shawn, I think of someone who has the right personality and demeanor to ride through rough waters,” says Lynda Ransdell, Ph.D., current president of NAGWS and professor at Boise State University. “She was instrumental in helping the organization survive.”
Today, Ladda is busy teaching and researching for a book she will author to compare her own experiences with those of women from older and younger generations.
“As teachers, we need to find students who aren’t aware [of the past],” she says, pointing at the posters and pictures of her office museum. “For progress to be made, part of it is understanding history, keeping it in perspective and not taking it for granted.”
Such wisdom has impacted many Manhattan students through the years, including Kara Scanlon ’10, who now teaches physical and health education at a low-income school in Rhode Island.
“Dr. Ladda spends countless hours empowering girls and women of all ages on what it means to be physically educated and the ‘herstory’ of female athletics,” Scanlon says.
“Her fabulous wit, laugh, confidence and dedication fills any room with joy and makes a lasting impression.”
And while you won’t find her on the sidelines of a soccer field anymore, it’s clear that Ladda has found other ways to keep winning.
“Now I feel like I coach every day,” Ladda says. “My students are my team.”