Ralls examines the need for women leaders – Lowell Sun

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LOWELL — Title IX, passed 50 years ago Thursday, aimed to level the playing field for women in collegiate athletics and said: “No one in the United States shall be disqualified from participating on the basis of sex, the benefits.” Being discriminated against by or in the context of an educational program or activity that receives federal funding.

Since the death in 1972, women’s sport has grown, but much remains to be done. Kathleen Ralls, a former outstanding athlete at Chelmsford High who later served as an athletic intern at Lowell Sun, hopes her first book, Take Her Word for It: Sports Cultivates World-Class Leaders, will help women be better leaders in the world of sports to become a competitive sport.

“Inspired by my research and experiences, I’m now starting a business for women’s empowerment and public speaking,” said the 44-year-old. “The book is a key part of spreading my message that women’s leadership is critical, that it often springs from a sporting background, and that leadership can take many different forms.”

Ralls graduated from CHS in 1996 and was the school’s Athlete of the Year and Sun’s Field Hockey Player of the Year. She then earned a BA in Journalism from UMass and a Master of Arts in Secondary Education from American University. Ralls rounded it all off by earning his PhD from UMass Lowell in Leadership and Education.

She worked a variety of jobs, first as a Sun Sports intern for three years from 1999 to 2002 before working at both UML and American University in their sports information departments. From 2005 to 2008 she was a high school social studies teacher in Washington, DC before returning to Massachusetts to spend two years as an associate professor/teaching assistant at UMass Lowell. For the last two years she has been a reading teacher and since 1999 also a multisport trainer, from youth to high school.

Ralls found time to travel to Ethiopia for three months in 2019, which sparked the idea for the book.

“The book is an offshoot of my PhD, which involved traveling to Ethiopia to work with members of the Girls Gotta Run Foundation,” she explained. “The girls have taken surveys and I’ve had to do a lot of observational studies in their schools, in training and in their communities to see if they perceive greater voice empowerment because of their participation in sports, and they do. This question is based on my own experiences and observations as a high school teacher and coach.

“Whereas my dissertation focused on teenage girls, my book focuses on eleven women from the US, Europe and the Middle East. They reflected on how their experiences in sport helped them to master their professional life. Basically, I wanted to see if I’m the only one out there, and luckily I’m not.”

It took her a year to write, complete, and publish the book. It is now available on Amazon.com.

“I interviewed 11 women, including two locals: my cousin (Lowell High girls’ cross country coach MaryBeth McKenney) and my former (Chelmsford High Field Hockey) coach Maura Devaney Duah-Asamoah,” she said. “The most famous person is US Olympic champion Kate Grace. The book uses as many women’s voices as possible and seeks to inspire other athletic women to use their unique voices to be leaders. The women spoke of direct connections between success in sport and success in professional life.”

So far, the book has been a huge hit, with two incredible reviews, including from Pulitzer Prize-winner Madeleine Blais and Marguerite Murer Tortorello, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Blais said: “It’s always a pleasure when intuition and hard evidence are one and the same. Kudos to Kathleen Ralls for taking the time and expertise as she demonstrates without a doubt how young women who are at the peak of sporting excellence continue to bring solid leadership to other arenas to follow.”

Tortorello said: “With many of us spending far too much time on our couches during the pandemic in recent years, Kathleen Ralls shows us the power of sport to lift spirits, move minds and create meaningful change. Through stories from athletes and the sporting community, Kathleen helps us walk in her shoes and see how sport can empower our voices and develop important leadership skills. The themes outlined in Take Her At Her Word: Sport Cultivates World-Class Leaders will help promote equal opportunity, develop self-confidence and expand opportunity for others. While working at the White House, I often walked the paths along the Lincoln Memorial and memorials. And as I think back to those times, I can imagine Kathleen walking by my side, coaching me with encouragement and determination. I know you’re going to enjoy it immensely, ‘Take her word for it, sport makes world-class leaders.’”

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