At a young age, Lilly Travieso became fascinated with the world of sports, specifically softball. As she began playing the sport throughout her early years in grade school, she soon realized she wanted to continue pursuing softball at higher and more competitive levels. She was eager to play the sport in college.
With hard work, dedication and support in her athletic, academic and personal life, Travieso got recruited for softball at Cornell University through an athletic award.
However, before beginning her sports journey, Travieso had to do a lot of research to figure out how to reach that goal, which included figuring what resources were available to help guide her in the right direction. Travieso soon realized some of the barriers and obstacles Latinas and women of color in sports like herself face. One of these obstacles is the lack of information on how to finance colleges that offer their sport of choice.
“Softball is very expensive and can be seen as a financial burden for a lot of families,” Travieso said. “Going to an Ivy League school was something that never crossed our radar at all, and when that became a possibility, we were wondering why not a lot of girls understand or know that there’s certain information out there, that this is a possible thing that a lot of girls can take advantage of.”
Patty Godoy, Travieso’s mother, said that she also noticed the inequalities and disparities Latina women face in sports. She shared how there is not enough Latina athletes representation when it comes to sports. According to 2021–2022 data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) demographics study, only 7% of Hispanics/Latinos are student-athletes.
“As you get more competitive, and you go higher in the rankings of sports, such as softball, we saw that there were fewer Latinas present,” Godoy said.
Reflecting on Travieso’s experience, Godoy and Travieso decided they wanted to be a resource for other young Latina athletes who would eventually embark on a journey similar to hers, which led to the 2019 creation of their non-profit organization, the Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes (ELLA) Sports Foundation. According to the organization’s website, ELLA’s mission is to “support young Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence.” The non-profit organization’s physical office is located in Burbank, CA, but they have offered their services nationwide.
Focusing on young athletes
ELLA focuses on helping young Latina girls in grade school, college and even after college.
“We have our groups of outreach, which is the younger, elementary school-age girls. Then we have our middle school girls, high school girls and then college girls,” Godoy said. “And so basically throughout each of those phases, we empower them to work on their leadership skills because those are important tools that, when they get older and they get out of college, they’re going to be useful for them in whatever they decide to do.”
By working with a variety of age groups, Travieso sees the benefit of helping out girls in their various milestones and transitional periods in life.
A way in which ELLA empowers young Latina athletes to succeed in their academics, along with pursuing a sport, is through the three principles of ELLA: athletics, education and community. The principles were created as guidance and resources for young Latina women.
In the athletic principle section, ELLA provides guidance, education and information on how to get girls to play and grow in sports.
“So the three principles that ELLA thrives on is athletics,” Godoy said. “We want to encourage girls to play sports at a young age and continue that because they’ll learn very important life lessons inside and outside the field.”
As for education, ELLA offers empowerment workshops that girls of different age groups can attend. For example, college students can attend workshops where they learn how to network, communicate with others, gain leadership skills and handle finances. For younger students, some workshops provide information on the benefits of being part of a sport. The organization also recognizes that sports and academic excellence go hand in hand, which is why they also provide SAT and ACT preparation for high school students.
“Bringing about this organization is the amount of information and education we provide to the girls and just bringing about awareness. Awareness is a key in importance for women going into that and using sport as a catalyst for their education and careers just so that they can have those big skills and disciplines to further in their careers,” Travieso said.
“Softball Tonight” podcast
In addition, ELLA hosts a podcast called Softball Tonight, hosted by Coach Manny, College Coach Eric Kraut and Rey Delgado, who are part of the ELLA community. Recent episodes surround “Coaching the Coach,” which focuses on how to better coach girls in sports. Godoy said many coaches are often males, parents or someone who’s never taken coaching classes before.
LILLY TRAVIESO, 21, BURBANK, FOUNDER OF ELLA SPORTS FOUNDATION AND STUDENT ATHLETE, SHE/HER, LATINA/HISPANIC
The community aspect of the three principles is where ELLA donates equipment to local and underserved high schools. “We noticed that, in different areas, there are girls that play sports, but they don’t have the right equipment, or they don’t have the equipment,” Godoy said. “The equipment is used or too old.”
By being able to provide this help to young Latina athletes, Travieso and Godoy hope that this will help improve the cultural and economic factors that play a part in their journey.
As for the cultural component, Godoy pointed out how, when it comes to growing up in a Latino household, it is common for gender roles to be set from the start. She said that Latino parents are quick to put their sons in a sport, but they have other ideas for their daughters, such as learning how to cook and clean at home.
“There are a lot of cultural mindsets changing when it comes to that because we have to make sure that the parents are aware that sports are going to be good for them,” Godoy said.
ELLA wants to help young Latinas find independence as they grow through this experience.
Along with culture, there is an economic component that can be a factor in their academic and athletic growth. Travieso explained how having access to equipment is not easy and being part of a sport gets expensive. “It’s a big time in financial commitment that some families are not willing to provide. When parents are not able to support young girls in those early stages, they will sometimes quit or forget that this is something that they should prioritize,” Travieso said.
With the information that ELLA gives, they hope they can provide financial help to ease the process for families.
Having a non-profit organization such as ELLA is important for Godoy and Travieso. As for Godoy, she is proud of the workshops they have been able to create for developing female athletes. At a recent workshop, “Raising Girl Athletes: The Seven Whys,”, Godoy provided information regarding self-confidence, resilience, healthy eating habits and more to girls between the ages of eight to 11.
PATTY GODOY, 54, BURBANK, CO-FOUNDER OF ELLA SPORTS FOUNDATION, SHE/HER, LATINA/HISPANIC
Along with this, Travieso is proud of ELLA for being a resource young Latina girls can look into. She has been able to connect and share experiences with girls similar to herself.
“I know my role is helping a lot of girls. I text over the phone, I call them, and we share a lot of the things we struggle and our accomplishments throughout the journey,” Travieso said. “Having that communication back and forth can work wonders for women’s mental health.”
As for the future of ELLA, Travieso said ELLA hopes to change NCAA collegiate rules when it comes to having things available for women. “Ultimately, we want to change some laws and issues in place that are a little more fair and can level the playing field for Latina athletes,” Travieso said.
Godoy also hopes the organization can reach out to more people and provide them with the information they were not aware of. Godoy is aware that it can be a challenging time for students and parents to grow in sports and academics.
“We want to make sure we get our word out there so that athletes, student-athletes, or anybody can come and be part of us because I always say we don’t have subscribers, we have a community,” Godoy said. “And the community can be past athletes, brand-new athletes, families of athletes.”
ELLA’s email: email@example.com.
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