Cindy Swain’s older sister, Carla, was a mentor and an inspiration. She played tennis, ran and cycled. In the ’70s, just as Title IX was introduced to the world, Carla spoke openly about gender equity. In 1976, Swain lost her sister.
Swain started the In Her Name Foundation last fall to honor her sister’s memory and empower the next generation of female athletes.
“In the process of losing my sister, I knew I had to honor her in some way,” said Swain.
When her sister died, Swain was only 14 years old. Swain’s tennis coach, Donna Cooper, consoled her at practice.
“I was really lost, and she took me under her wing,” said Swain.
Cooper told her, “Do you have faith? Faith and time will get you through this.”
Swain never forgot that interaction. The feeling of a coach truly paying attention to you and understanding your struggle is part of what informs the mission of the In Her Name Foundation.
The ultimate mission of In Her Name is to make girls feel comfortable playing sports, to offer opportunities for young athletes and help keep the dreams of these aspiring sports professionals alive.
“We want to connect with young girls. We want to show them they can do things that they don’t think they can do,” said Swain.
Girls’ sports simply don’t get the care and attention that boys’ sports receive. Swain has seen girls playing in ill-fitting boys’ uniforms or wearing shoes that are inappropriate for the sport. She noticed that crowds flock to boys’ varsity basketball but then vacate the premises when it’s time to watch the girls play.
“There’s this general attitude that doesn’t make girls feel valued, important or good enough. Girls just don’t feel as welcome. A lot of them just quit,” said Swain. “A lot of girls tell me that they want to quit just because they know they’re not good enough to play in college.”
As the organization grows, Swain hopes to be able to provide fees for girls to play sports, transportation and proper uniforms. Eventually, she hopes to raise enough money to begin offering mentorships and internships.
In Her Name also plans to raise at least $10,000 by the end of the summer to open a free equipment room.
“Kids could come in and say they need shin guards or whatever piece of equipment,” explained Swain. “We want to be able to offer that for them. Not everyone has access to the basic things you need to be able to play sports.”
In Her Name is holding its first event June 12. It’s called the Greater Lansing Basketball Giveaway. The event is free for girls from the Lansing area in grades K through 12. Each attendee will receive a t-shirt, a women’s regulation-sized basketball and a skills sheet tailored to their skill level.
“We picked basketball because it’s kind of simple. You just need a ball and a hoop,” said Swain. “You can play it alone, or you can gather a team. It’s also one of the most popular sports for girls in Michigan.”
Swain hopes that people join In Her Name in its efforts to recognize and validate female athletics. She’s tired of hearing tired old sexist remarks like “You throw like a girl” or “Women’s basketball is boring.” Once, she heard a head coach tell a girl that she did so well in basketball because she shot the ball “like a man.” In Her Name is setting out to create a welcome environment for all the girls who feel unseen, condescended to and underappreciated.
“We need to bring awareness to this issue,” said Swain. “Those girls practice the same as the boys. They put in the same amount of effort. They deserve their due. They deserve recognition.”