“Women united are powerful:” Interview with Duke Women’s Soccer on joining Team WISER

If you’ve been tuning in to the news from WISER this year, you’ll no doubt remember that WISER has recently expanded its longtime partnership with the Duke University Women’s Soccer team.

Now, a new generation of Duke Women’s Soccer players are picking up the partnership right where it left off. Tess Boade (forward/midfielder), Holly Stam (goalkeeper), and Mackenzie Pluck (midfielder), along with the rest of the team, are hoping to amplify the connection between these two organizations throughout this already-thrilling soccer season and beyond.

Duke senior Liddy Grantland, WISER’s communications assistant, sat down with three members of the team during their first week of classes to talk about soccer, women’s empowerment, and these three teammates’ dreams for the WISER partnership. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

Liddy Grantland: Tell me about the first time you heard about WISER.

Holly Stam: The first time I heard about WISER was through Chelsea Burns [Duke ’19]. She graduated this past year, and she was super involved with WISER. I remember, I was sitting in the locker room with her one day, and she was like “Hey Holly, would you know anybody who’d be interested in taking on this project for me? I’m graduating, and I would really like someone to be involved with this organization.” At that point, I knew that we had sent equipment there, so I was familiar with it. She explained it to me further, and I was like “I would love to!”

Tess Boade: I think last year was the first time I’d heard about it. Zack [Fowler, WISER International’s Executive Director] came in and gave a presentation to the team. I think people are so much more behind it and willing to be involved now.

Mackenzie Pluck: I actually heard it from my AIDS and Emerging Diseases class, from Sherryl [Broverman, WISER’s co-founder and Duke Biology professor]. I didn’t even put it together that it was the same program. Hearing about it in class and then seeing what we could do as athletes to help was such a cool thing for me because I have a team to do this with.

LG: I’m so glad you got to hear about it from Sherryl—that is such a great class. As you might know, WISER girls love sports. Every day at 4 o’clock they change out of their uniforms and pay soccer, volleyball, and netball. WISER girls are really influenced by their athletic endeavors along with their academic ones. How has soccer impacted your time at Duke?

TB: One of the things that drew me to WISER is how important athletics are to their building of identity and confidence. As someone who’s played sports since I could walk, it’s always been a central part of who I am. I know the things I’ve learned about myself through sports and how much confidence I have in a classroom to raise my hand just because I raise my hand when we’re going over film [in practice]. I think the translation is really important and it helps to make me successful in life.

HS: Most days, we practice in the afternoons, and I think it’s sort of cool that our schedules align [with the WISER girls’].

MP: I feel like women in sport is on the come-up in a lot of cultures, and although our cultures are drastically different, sport is a way to connect us.

TB: I also think sports are so important for competition. In sports, you learn that it’s okay to be the best, it’s okay to be good, it’s okay to want to compete.

LG: WISER is all about women’s empowerment. I wonder, how do you see the values of women’s empowerment aligning with Duke Women’s Soccer’s culture and the way that you operate as a team?

HS: I heard some stat recently where something like 90% of female CEOs come from athletics or have an athletic background, and I think that comes from your ability to push back when you’re in sport and you face adversity. The amount of self-growth you do through playing sports is massive for your people skills, for how you work with employers and things like that. Being able to spread that opportunity to more people, more girls, more women in the world is invaluable.

MP: I also think, as a team, you are more united. Women united are way more powerful, especially because everybody brings something different to the team. We embrace that to another level. I think that’s so important in every sport, and that sort of empowers us.

LG: Can you walk me through the motivations behind Duke Women’s Soccer and the WISER connection?

H: Chelsea saw a future in it, for sure. I just know that she’s so proud of her girls for being able to do what she wanted to do here.

TB: I think Zack was surprised because he gave his presentation and couldn’t get out the door, everyone wanted to introduce themselves and ask how they can get involved.

MP: Honestly, I think our team needed that, because we’ve always wanted to do something more than what we do.

HS: Also, as a team, doing things off the field allows us to be closer. It’s brought me closer to Tess, to Chelsea. I think what WISER is doing for us is allowing for us to be united for a cause that is off the field and will make us closer on the field.

LG: If you were talking to a WISER girl, or any high school scholar-athlete—someone who, like you, has these two parts of their life that are also really interconnected—what advice would you give to her?

MP: I say use it as a balance. When one is stressful, know that you have the other. When soccer is stressful, I’m like, “I’m going to go study for hours!” But when I want to release all that tension on the field, I’ll go and just do what I love.

HS: I think the biggest part, as a student athlete, is making sure you’re doing it because you love it, because you have a passion for it. That’s the biggest thing for me: making sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

TB: The only thing I would add is that I think it’s important to keep it a part of who you are but not who you are. I think it’s important for that to be just an extension of your identity and not your whole identity.

LG: Last question: what have you learned from this partnership, from the WISER girls?

MP: This is so much bigger than who we are. It’s about connecting with others. Yes, we’re here to build up our own confidence and succeed and prepare for later in life, but I think we can also make it easier for other people to succeed and prepare for later in life. Little by little, starting in college, having something that is bigger than what you’re doing is important.

TB: Learning about where WISER girls are coming from makes me more grateful for what I have, but it makes me want to work to give more girls opportunities like I have.

HS: I also feel like we can give them what we can, but the experience that they can give to us—being able to find the common ground, being able to show them what life is like for me and hear about their lives, is important for everyone involved.

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