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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Beavers celebrate, reflect on growth of female athletics

Wednesday marks the 36th annual celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and the Beavers took time to reflect on the advancement of female athletics in the nearly 50 years since Title IX. That includes creating a successful era within their own program -- one that’s played and coached entirely by women.

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Bemidji State senior Claire Wolhowe (24) passes the ball in the first half against Wayne State on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, at the BSU Gymnasium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Chelsea DeVille has long advocated for women supporting other women.

“We just need to build women up and give them opportunities,” the Bemidji State women’s basketball head coach said. “I think it’s really cool how we (at BSU) support and are building up others as a whole.”

Wednesday marks the 36th annual celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and the Beavers took time to reflect on the advancement of female athletics in the nearly 50 years since Title IX. That includes creating a successful era within their own program -- one that’s played and coached entirely by women.

“I wasn’t always the one who thought women had to coach women, and I still don’t think that they have to,” DeVille said. “But I do see a lot of impressive things that come out of that leadership and that mentorship.”

010620.S.BP.BSUWBB Coaches.jpg
BSU basketball coaches, from left, Chelsea DeVille, Jamie Schultz and Erica Gartner speak at the BSU Gymnasium on during a 2020 game. The 2020-21 season marked the first season since 1999-2000 that Bemidji State has had an all-female coaching staff.
(Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji State’s players have embraced the web of relationships within a team, as well, which has also paid dividends on the court.

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“We’re such a big family,” senior forward Claire Wolhowe said. “We’re close friends, we have fun on the bus. No matter if we win or lose, we’re still having fun and we’re still a family. We learn from our mistakes and come together more as a family to win the next one.”

BSU sits at 11-8 overall and 9-6 in NSIC play this season. The Beavers have their final full weekend at home this week, as Bemidji State faces Minot State at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4, and U-Mary at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, at the BSU Gymnasium.

The Beavers expect more of the same in the stands -- fans supporting their women.

“We put out a product that’s fun to watch,” DeVille said. “The staff and the athletes in general, they love cheering on their peers. So you see at our games how our athletic department -- especially our student body -- is growing so close that they’re each other’s biggest fans.”

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Beaver fans cheer for senior Trinity Yoder, who scored 1,000th point in the second half against Wayne State, on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, at the BSU Gymnasium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Wolhowe put things in perspective by noting BSU’s recent 50th anniversary of women’s sports, which arrived on campus in 1967.

“Hearing that it’s only been 50 years that women were able to play sports, I just think it’s crazy,” Wolhowe said. “That’s not long ago. Being a part of that (growth) is awesome.”

And Wolhowe even noted how the expansion stretches beyond basketball.

“To see how far we’ve come in society through the years is amazing,” she said. “To see women be so successful and in power -- like having a woman vice president -- it’s really cool to see and be a part of history like that.”

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The Bemidji State bench celebrates a 3-pointer from Brooklyn Bachmann in the first half against Minnesota State Moorhead on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium.
(Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

As the sports world celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Wednesday, DeVille thought back on her time growing up. While she was fortunate to receive many of the opportunities that girls enjoy today, DeVille was still faced with a few hurdles.

“Back when I was in sixth grade, there weren’t a lot of girls traveling teams, there were boys (teams). So I played with the boys,” she said. “I’m fortunate that my tribe around me, even from a young age… embraced the tomboy.”

So how was it, playing against those boys?

“I don’t really remember, except my shorts were about down to my ankles,” she joked.

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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