GSMP 2015 Site Visits: Cecilia Vales at UCF

By Brian Canever September 24, 2015

As Cecilia Vales and one of her mentors, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, converse with each other from across a small table in Tiffany’s office inside the University of Central Florida’s Athletics complex, the differences between their environments couldn’t be clearer.

Tiffany, an Olympic gold medalist and member of the 1999 World Cup-winning United States women’s national soccer team, coaches UCF’s top-30 ranked women’s soccer team, while Cecilia works with underserved girls in Mexico and Colombia through Gonzo Soccer.

During our second site visit of the 2015 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, co-directors of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, and I, spoke with Cecilia, Tiffany and Karen Morrison, chief diversity officer at UCF, about the impact of Title IX for girls and women in the U.S. and the gross disparities still facing girls in Mexico and Colombia.

“Student-athletes in the United States are very privileged,” Tiffany said. “There are so many resources that guarantee their success in the classroom and on the field. I think sometimes they forget that, and we need to remind them of how many opportunities they have to be successful.”

Tiffany and Karen are helping to shape and support Cecilia’s plans for carving a path so that girls in her country can make it to college. But the challenges are many: gender-based violence, early unwanted pregnancies, crime, gangs and lack of access to education and physical activity.

“At Gonzo Soccer, we teach girls about leadership and discipline. We believe they can have more opportunities,” Cecilia said. “They may not see them right now, but they exist.”

In the U.S., much of the success of women’s sports over the past four decades has been a direct result of Title IX and the pioneers who forged a path for equal opportunities.

“When we allowed women to access the same opportunities as men, our country changed for the better,” Karen said.

The situation may be different for Cecilia in Mexico, but Karen and Tiffany, who share the same dreams and goals for female athletes, will work together over the next three weeks to ensure she comes away with a clear and effective plan to innovate and grow the impact she is already making through Gonzo Soccer’s 10 academies in Latin America.

As Tiffany said: “When we talk about the culture or the support, the resources, or the recruiting process, there are major differences. But, at the end of the day, it’s really all the same. It comes down to the empowerment of girls through soccer and education.”

Listen to the Center’s podcast conversation with Cecilia, Tiffany and Karen at the link below