KHPR faculty, graduate student bring mentorship program to North Texas girls

By Mary Murphy

University of North Texas Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation (KHPR) master's student Krystal Johnson recently teamed up with KHPR professors John Collins and Scott Martin to bring Girls in the Game, a mentorship program designed to help empower young girls, to the North Texas area.

Girls in the Game is an organization that strives to help young girls find their voice, discover their strengths and lead with confidence through fun and active sports and leadership programs. The organization started in the early 1990s and is based in Chicago.  

During each season, Girls in the Game has teen-led after-school workshops for middle schoolers, leader-to-leader interviews and a Girls' Summit. Workshops are led by a "Teen Squad," a team of local high school girls who mentor middle school girls while teaching them a pre-set curriculum about sports, leadership and self-wellness.

Girls in the Game offers several different pre-set curriculums to choose from, each involving three parts: a sport, a leadership skill and a topic concerning personal health or image. For this semester of Girls in the Game, Johnson and Collins chose a program that would teach girls about basketball, healthy relationships and self-identity. Girls in the Game provided them with a guiding playbook tailored to this curriculum.

"There are not many female-only programs developed to address the whole being of self," Johnson said. "This is exactly what Girls in the Game is about – addressing the whole being of females through sports, health, leadership and lifestyle. Knowing how important and impactful those traits are in the development of a young person made me want to be a part of the program."

Johnson, who is the UNT university coordinator for Girls in the Game, had to organize a Teen Squad before the season could begin. Johnson reached out to Dan Ford, principal of Denton High School, and Rhana Ramos, girls athletic coordinator for Denton High, to help find girls for the spring Teen Squad. Ramos hand-selected 16 female athletes who were willing to participate, all of whom were sophomores and juniors who played varsity sports at Denton High.

 Before they could begin teaching workshops, the Teen Squad had to attend a three-hour training course with Johnson. The squad members had to learn the playbook they were responsible for teaching to the middle school girls. Each member received a $500 college scholarship from Girls in the Game, which will be held in a bank account until they graduate from high school and are accepted into college.

Not only did Teen Squad members receive scholarship funds and get to mentor middle school girls, but they also participated in leader-to-leader interviews, where they learned more about possible future careers and opportunities, and visited the office of Fossil Group Inc., which funds Girls in the Game, in Richardson.

Johnson also coordinated a leader-to-leader interview featuring a college panel that included Sandy Nguyen, a UNT Recreation, Event and Sports Management graduate student and Pohl Recreation Center Aquatics graduate assistant; Christina James and Michelle Budet, teaching fellows in UNT's KHPR program; and Shahaf Bareni, a UNT Recreation, Event and Sports Management graduate student and a UNT track and field high jumper. The Teen Squad listened to their personal stories and asked questions about time management, challenges transitioning from high school to college, and more.

During the season, Johnson had multiple tasks to accomplish. She had to choose the curriculum, train the Teen Squad, visit and contact middle schools to spread the word about Girls in the Game, find workshop participants, plan leader-to-leader interviews, and compile data from previous workshops. On top of this, she was getting ready to graduate in May 2016.

"The last three weeks [of the semester] were probably the toughest three weeks of my life, trying to organize this and time commitments," Johnson said. "I just had to keep in mind what I was doing it for, the end goal – it was for the girls, the sport, their opportunities. That motivated me to keep my composure and get through it. I'm happy it turned out so well."

Around 100 middle school girls participated in the four after-school workshops held at Denton's McMath and Calhoun middle schools throughout this Girls in the Game season. The largest workshop consisted of 53 girls from McMath Middle School who stayed after school to learn about basketball, healthy relationships and self-identity.

After the season ended, all of the season's participants and their families came together on May 21 for the Girls' Summit. The Teen Squad had to work together and organize the entire Girls' Summit event – from selecting activities to organizing supplies and leading the program.

The Teen Squad also had to choose a different curriculum for the Summit since all of the attendees were middle school girls who had participated in previous workshops. They decided to teach girls at the Summit about volleyball skills, body image and goalsetting.

According to Johnson, several girls at the Summit approached her to ask if they could be involved with Girls in the Game's next season. An eighth-grader planning to attend Denton High School even asked her if they could be a part of the next Teen Squad.

Faculty members Martin and Collins see future research opportunities with the program, including tracking the number of girls involved, their behavior, amount of involvement and more to gauge the program's effectiveness and impact.

After Girls in the Game's first season in North Texas, Johnson is already seeing proof of the program's value.

"The teens have improved their public-speaking skills, leadership skills, and strategic and critical thinking skills that they can put to use outside of Girls in the Game," Johnson said. "For the younger girls, it's a great feeling to see them make new friends at the workshops and engage in activities that they have never played before."

Johnson plans to continue helping with Girls in the Game during its tentative fall 2016 season in North Texas. For more information about the program, visit