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Panthers employees speak to female athletes at Harding High School for National Girls and Women in Sports Day

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CHARLOTTE — For Abagail Marshall, a junior and three-sport athlete at Harding University High, TikTok is a way to have some fun and keep up with friends. She didn't realize it could turn into a career.

Senior volleyball player Brianna Myers already had dreams of going to college to become a nurse, or possibly getting into sports medicine.

But after some recent time with women who work in sports, they came away with a new perspective and the kind of support they can use in the future.

A group of 15 Panthers and Tepper Sports and Entertainment employees from various departments recently met with the female athletes at Harding, as part of their celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

The group spent some time talking about the number of avenues open to women in the field, and shared their stories of finding their niche in a world not often viewed as available to them.

"It's OK to not know what's next," Panthers social media manager Angela Denogean told the group. "But at the same time, still making sure your voice is heard in rooms full of people who don't look like you."

Group talking

While the sports industry — at least the part you see on television — may still be dominated by men, the variety of jobs on display at the event made it clear there were a number of opportunities available. And considering and exploring those opportunities was a large part of the reason they were there.

There were representatives from the team's social media department and community relations. But also from ticketing and marketing and entertainment, all sharing messages they wish they might have heard when they were in high school.

"I wish I'd have known it was OK to fail," said entertainment coordinator Chandalae Lanouette, who oversees on-field entertainment, including the TopCats. She admitted not knowing what she wanted to pursue at first, or what was even on the table.

Chandalae Lanouette

There were similar stories, and memories of inspiring teachers and coaches, from several speakers. From ticketing to marketing, historical affairs to social media and digital communications, a wide range of career paths were on display.

"A lot of times at the student level, they don't realize what it looks like to start in these fields, or what the jobs look like," said Harding's interim principal, Jane Sutton. "What they're seeing today is that there are jobs they've never thought of, like the way retail becomes part of the organization. This just takes our girls and makes them stronger as women from hearing these stories and knowing what's possible."

After some initial words to the entire group, the students broke off into smaller groups for some talk about job tracks, but also encouragement in general about the paths they can follow.

So while there are plenty of examples of athletic success at Harding (photos of their back-to-back state champion basketball teams greet you when you walk in the gym, and a new set of banners inside the gym document their recent championships in track and other sports), this event made it clear there was a chance to stay in the game beyond graduation.

"I think this definitely gives these young women a new insight," Harding track and cross country coach LaSonja Collins said. "They think it's just playing the game, but it's important to know this can turn into management. This is about the people behind the scenes making things happen."

Marshall, who plays volleyball and softball and runs track, described the event as "really inspiring," and said it's making her think about new avenues that could be open to her after graduation.

And having access to women who have already walked those paths also presents a roadmap that could help others find new careers of their own.

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