Jennie Finch among speakers at second annual Empowering Girls convention
"Free" is tough to beat.
Bill Conroy is hoping free admission will balloon attendance at the second annual Empowering Girls for Life Convention on Saturday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
Conroy is a local businessman and a longtime promoter and owner of travel softball teams for girls. He had always wanted to create a forum for motivating and supporting girls in reaching their athletic and professional dreams, so last year he created a day long program that included speakers and corporate vendors who are interested in providing uplifting messages and products for young girls.
Last year, a vast majority of the nearly 1,000 attendees at the convention were players and parents from Conroy's collection of 15 Bandits travel softball teams, which are located in not only the Chicago area but also in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
"Our speakers last year were all amazing. The messages they conveyed were outstanding," Conroy said. "But this is too important of a subject matter to be limited to basically one softball organization, regardless of how significant the Bandit organization is to me personally. That's why we did things differently this year with no admission fees. We are hoping to get the masses there."
The convention, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be hosted by Fox NFL reporter Laura Okmin, features a collection of big names and accomplished women, mostly in the sports world, but some outside of it, too.
The headliner is Jennie Finch, perhaps the world's most recognized and decorated softball player. She won Olympic gold with USA softball and also played for the Chicago Bandits, which Conroy founded in 2005. She will be joined for the first speaking session at 9 a.m. by Natasha Watley, also an Olympic gold-winning softball player.
Another big-name speaker is Kathrine Switzer, whom I just wrote a column about a few weeks ago. Switzer, in 1967, was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. Now 72, Switzer is still running marathons and has created an organization called 261 Fearless, which promotes fitness and uses running as a way to empower women to overcome life obstacles and embrace healthy living. The number "261" was Switzer's number in the 1967 Boston Marathon.
Softball coaches Kate Drohan of Northwestern and Yvette Healy of Wisconsin are also among the speakers as is Victoria Arlen, an ESPN personality who is a gold-medal winning paralympian. At age 11, Arlen developed two rare conditions that put her into a complete vegetative state for four years and forced her to re-learn how to speak, eat and move.
A new addition to the program, and a nod to the EGFL's naming sponsor ComEd and its desire to include a tech/science speaker in the mix, is Alyssa Carson, who is the first person to complete the NASA Passport program. She became involved with NASA at age 11 and now at age 18, she is the youngest person to graduate from the Advanced Possum Academy, which certifies her to go to space. Carson is earmarked to be on the first mission to Mars.
Elana Meyers Taylor, another speaker, is the current president of the Women's Sports Foundation and is a three-time Olympic medalist bobsledder.
For the second year in a row, I also will be speaking at the convention. Rounding out the program at 3:30 p.m., my group also includes Sandburg High School principal Jennifer Tyrrell, a former softball player at Western Illinois and a former high school all-American, and Jodi Norgaard, the founder of Go! Go! Go! Sports Girls.
Meanwhile, all kinds of athletic, academic and female-oriented vendors will be on hand in booths promoting their products and services and passing out goodie bags.
"Last year, I heard a lot of feedback from girls about how much they loved the convention and how they took away a lot of motivating messages," Conroy said. "The goal is to keep that going. I didn't start this to be a two- or three-year project. This is important."
For more information about Empowering Girls for Life, visit www.empoweringgirls.life.
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