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Published June 13, 2024

Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport celebrates 30 years

The Tucker Center aims to make a difference in the lives of women in sports through research and community outreach.
Image by Emma Walytka
Mary Jo Kane and Nicole LaVoi embrace each other in a bittersweet moment of gratitude at a lecture series on Feb. 6 celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Tucker Center.

It was the 20th anniversary of Title IX when Mary Jo Kane raised her hand during a faculty meeting at the University of Minnesota and proposed building a center that researched and empowered women in sports. 

Kane’s idea was described to Dorthy Tucker, who graduated from the University in 1945. Kane said she still remembers her shock and disbelief at receiving $1 million from Tucker to start the center. 

However, Kane said she was not able to access the funds until after Tucker passed.

“I was rattled,” Kane said. “I almost backed out because I was so eager to start my research as soon as possible.”

The University proposed to Tucker to give $45,000 annually for five years, which the University matched. Kane said she had $90,000 a year to start the center.

Kane became the founder and first director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport in 1993.

Since its initial founding, the Tucker Center has expanded the possibilities for women in sport with a focus on research and community engagement. 

Tthe Tucker Center held a distinguished lecture series on Tuesday celebrating 30 years of championing research of women in sport and recapping achievements made over the last five years. 

In the 1990s, research was not keeping pace with increased participation in women’s sport, Kane said. The Tucker Center was about to be the first and only to keep a research university strong by implementing up-to-date research on that subject.

“Research is a part of the North Star of the Tucker Center,” Kane said. “I wanted to make sure that we were taken seriously as an academic enterprise, research is at the head of the mission … end of discussion.” 

Nicole LaVoi, the co-director of the Tucker Center, said what drove her to get involved with the Tucker Center was her passion to use sports to uplift girls from all around the world. 

Changing the portrayal of female athletes in the media, developing a network among affiliate scholars in the Tucker Center and sharing research were key goals of the center, LaVoi added. 

“The strength of Mary Jo and I working together was we did have different perspectives and different strengths, but we shared the passion and the mission,” LaVoi said. 

Anna Goorevich, a research assistant at the Tucker Center, said when she started as an intern she immediately found a community and felt empowered.

“Even though we were all on Zoom, it was one of the first times where I was surrounded by like-minded, driven, passionate women who all were there to learn and also to use research to create social change,” Goorevich said.

In the past five years, the Tucker Center has focused on research in media representations for women in sports by removing barriers to participation and leadership positions, LaVoi said.

Coaching HER is a free program offered by the Tucker Center that launched in March 2023 in collaboration with Nike. The program provides coaches with tools and resources to coach girls effectively, according to its website.

While working on Coaching HER, Dove contacted the Tucker Center to collaborate with Nike to develop a tool that promotes body confidence in girls involved in sports, according to LaVoi. 

“It was the first time two major brands worked with leading academic partners to design, rigorously test, develop and launch a tool to keep 11- to 17-year-old girls in sports,” LaVoi said.

Body Confident Sport is designed to help coaches recognize signs of negative body image and develop an environment that promotes body confidence, LaVoi said. 

Courtney Boucher, the assistant director of research and programming and the product owner of Coaching HER, said her research is mainly focused on what she refers to as a “coaching report card,” which holds institutions accountable by creating a grading system for how many women are employed on sports teams in colleges. 

“[These programs] are creating a space that girls not only can survive in sport, but instead they thrive within it,” Boucher said. 

None of this would have been possible without people who have a passion for contributing to research and empowerment among girls and women in sports, according to Kane. 

“Just to think that me going, ‘I have an idea,’ and raising my hand that day made this all possible makes me feel deeply humbled and filled with gratitude,” Kane said. 

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