By Ashleigh Sargent
In between soufflé and sauce instruction, there’s time for athletics. Yes, they do more than cook at the Culinary Institute of America. Since 2004, they’ve played intercollegiate sports (though no scholarship athletes here). And, unlike most college basketball teams, the CIA Steels are co-ed, thanks to the addition this season of Mackenzie Anderson, a freshman Culinary Arts major. Mackenzie — #23 — spoke with FGN about her co-ed sports experience and her hope that more women don’t let their sex keep them off the court or field.
FGN: The Culinary Institute of America is a cooking school that, since 2004, has had intramural sports teams, including some that are co-ed. What drew you here and why do women and men play together?
MA: The Culinary Institute is amazing! It has been a dream of mine to come here since I was little. At the CIA, if you’re bold enough to try out, women can make the teams because they don’t offer many women’s sports yet. (They are plans to add more women’s sports).
FGN: Why did you decide to play on a men’s team?
MA: During high school I went to a local gym and worked out with personal trainers three days a week. In Fall 2009, I participated in a power lifting competition, which then lit a spark in my brain. I realized that I was strong and decided to tryout for the football team at my high school. I played offensive-defensive tackle, JV junior year and varsity senior year. Football was the best experience of my life. It was the most fun I have ever had in a sport, and it proved that girls can do anything guys can do. I played simply to challenge myself, but I liked that I may have been someone to look up to. At CIA I tried out for them men’s basketball team because I love the sport. They didn’t have a owmen’s team so I just went for it. I had to try out like all the guys who came out for the team, and prove that I was just as good. I made the team knowing that I may not get much playing time, but it was worth it to me. I get to stay in shape and play a sport I love.
FGN: What is it like being the only female player?
MA: My teammates treat me like I’m one of the guys. They never go easy on me, and I have never felt excluded. I feel I have gained respect from the team. My coach always says, “I don’t know how you can put up with us.” The guys always say, “Coach, she’s just one of the guys!” I love that!
FGN: Are there any particularly challenges?
MA: One challenge for me is the running. The guys are such good athletes and it’s hard for me to run as fast as them when we run sprints in practice. It’s also hard to box them out (I’m only five feet tall). Another challenge is the size of the ball. The men’s ball is larger than the women’s ball that I have been playing with all my life, which forces me to work harder than the guys.
FGN: What do you enjoy about the team?
MA: I think the best thing about being on a team full of guys is that they always challenge you and my teammates are really fun to be around.
FGN: What have you learned from the experience?
MA: I have learned that if you see something you want, go out and get it. Don’t let anyone stop you. I have talked to women who say, “I have always wanted to play football or I wanted to try out for basketball but didn’t want to be the only girl.” I hate hearing that! Women tell themselves they are not good enough, instead of just saying, “I am good. I’m going to go out and show these guys what I’ve got and earn their respect.” Some days I’m proud to be the only female on the team, but I also wish more women stood up for themselves and believed in themselves.