A League of Her Own

Here at Handled, we are fortunate enough to attend tons of fantastic events all around the city, and at these events, we are even MORE fortunate to meet tons of fantastic people. People who exude passion, drive, and a commitment to change.

Dana Bookman is one of those people.

We met her at a Women of Influence event in December, fell head over heels with not just her, but her entire movement, and had to sit down for a chat. Over steak-frites and a glass of red wine (or two), we fell deeper. Read on and you’ll see why.

Dana has two children, a son and then a daughter, only one year apart. Unsurprisingly, her daughter looks up to- nay, worships her big brother and wants to do everything he does, which is exactly how she got into baseball. So, like the devoted mother she is, Dana registered her daughter to play baseball in a co-ed league of 400 kids.

Lo and behold, 399 of those kids were boys (I think you know where I’m going with this).

“No one was really mean to her, but nobody was really nice to her, either. They said things that weren’t fantastic like, ‘hit it to the girl’ or ‘she won’t make the play’. Stuff that I think she internalized. And then when it came time for her to sign up again she said, I’m not gonna do it. And I said what are you talking about?!” Dana’s hands are thrown up as she retells this. “You have to play baseball, you love it! You can’t quit.” And so instead of signing up her daughter for a league she hated, she wrote a post on Facebook, asking friends if their daughters wanted to join hers at the park for some fun.

Expecting five kids to show up, Dana was shocked to see 42. “I started contacting people, saying ‘I have 42 girls playing baseball, can you believe it?!’ [laughing] I was so excited.” You can then imagine how excited she was when 150 girls signed up the following fall, and 350 the next spring. Alas, Toronto Girls Baseball was born!!

With three locations open in Toronto, two opening in Manitoba, and one in Nova Scotia this year, Dana is evidently taking the organized sport world by storm. So we asked her why baseball? What is it about this sport that has captivated so many young girls all over the country?

“The big thing is that it’s not just baseball. We’re giving girls an opportunity to develop confidence, an opportunity to learn how to be part of a team, how to win, how to lose. They learn how to take constructive criticism, how to interact with adults and sports officials, how to be empathetic. These are skills we deny girls when we don’t encourage them to be part of a team.”IMG_5008_preview.jpeg

Dana told us that Ernst & Young surveyed 891 high-level executives, and of the women sampled, a whopping 90% of them played sports. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the captain of her high school swim team and also played varsity lacrosse, tennis and basketball, and at Princeton University she played NCAA squash and lacrosse. Sunoco CEO Lynn Elsenhans played on Rice University’s first women’s basketball team. Mondelez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld played four varsity sports in high school and NCAA basketball at Cornell University.

“We’re creating future leaders.” It’s hard to argue with that.

“I want it to be in every city of every province. I’ve gotten calls from Chicago and New York, asking about opening there. The demand is so high. I’m opening in Manitoba and Nova Scotia because people have called me. Girls need a space to develop those skills that they can’t develop in individual sports. It puts them on the path to becoming a CEO and gives them the confidence to get there.”

Dana is also (unsurprisingly) a huge advocate for Canada’s National Women’s Baseball Team, who is second in the world, after Japan. Second in the world!! And nobody knows about them. “The women’s team gets *this* much government funding. They play in world championships and don’t get to take their uniforms home. The Men’s team is sponsored by Under Armor. I want to say it disgusts me but I just don’t understand. These are the girls that my players aspire to be like and they’re not supported.”

So Dana is doing something about that. She’s hosting a Mad Hatter Tea Party in honour of these women, some of which also coach the girls, and all profits go straight into the Women’s Team’s pockets. “We need to support each other as girls and women in this space. The amount of their own money that they spend to stay involved in this sport, to travel, to train, to pay for their own uniforms…I’m a tiny little organization and I can’t give a lot but this is what I can do.”

We asked Dana what part of her organization she’s most proud of. Her answer? “That it exists. I’m personally proud of being part of this space. I feel like I’m making a difference. I can actually say I have almost 600 girls who have come through my system and in some way or another have changed their lives a little bit, because they’ve experienced this.”

One of the mom’s of a TGB player approached Dana one day with the question, what other organizations exist for girls that we don’t know about? And so they created Girl Expo Canada, a convention for girls ages 5-12, to show them every space they can be a part of that they may not have thought of. “We had an entire sports room with flag football, baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, karate. We had five different kinds of technology organizations where they could learn how to code and make movies. We had yoga demonstrations and author readings. We had almost 1000 people through the doors.” The second expo will be held this September. “It’s an amazing space to be a part of because like I said, you can actually physically see what these girls are taking away. We had an organization called Code Mobile there, which is a coding program, and a friend of my son’s had done it and I saw her right after asked her, ‘how was it?’ and she looked at me with huge eyes and said, ‘It blew my mind.’ She’s nine years old.”

And finally, we asked Dana what advice she would give her 18-year-old self. “I think it would be, don’t do something because it’s easy. Take the time to figure out what’s meaningful to me. Create my own path because at 18, there’s an opportunity to go slowly. I wouldn’t go back and change anything but I wouldn’t have just fallen into my job that I took at the time (journalism). I mean, I knew what I wanted and I didn’t do it because I was going for stability – and that was a mistake.”

If we could only take away one thing (next to impossible) from Dana and the movement that is Toronto Girls Baseball, it wouldn’t be to try and change those who stand in our way, but rather to be brave enough to lead by example and create that change ourselves.

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