Pittsburgh’s female sports stars score big with local youth initiatives

Pittsburgh’s image as a bona fide sports town affects how both visitors and residents view the city. Successful pro teams play a large part in our reputation among the rest of the nation, but the business of sports has also changed the fate of neighborhoods, from the Hill District’s rise, fall and reemergence as home to the Civic Arena and Consol Energy Center to the birth of the North Shore, thanks to PNC Park and Heinz Field.

And we love our hometown heroes with a passion that not only rivals but possibly surpasses other fans. The Steel City has always spotlighted male sports teams. But is this city ready to give its female stars a place to shine?

Honoring female athletes isn’t new to Pittsburgh. In 2007, the Women and Girls Foundation hosted a special event called “Women in Sports: Leveling the Playing Field.” But beyond the women’s football team Pittsburgh Passion and national fast-pitch softball team Pennsylvania Rebellion, Pittsburgh lacks professional women’s teams. Many of our best athletes must leave to showcase their skills in other cities.

Hockey goalie Brianne McLaughlin, soccer champ Meghan Klingenberg and basketballer Swin Cash are making their marks in professional team sports. Despite the fact that none of them can compete on teams from Pittsburgh, they are each working to nurture the next generation of girls in sports in this region.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, six-time WNBA all-star and two-time NCAA champion, McKeesport native Swin Cash has built an extensive set of programs designed to support opportunities for girls in sports as well as the community in general.

“With visibility comes great responsibility,” explained Cash in a recent interview. “I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. This city supported me throughout my career and made me the person I am today.”

Even though she hasn’t played for a Pittsburgh-based team since she left high school, Cash gives back to the community with a dedication only rivaled by her success on the court. She’s also the founder of Swin Cash Enterprises, LLC, which renovates and offers homes to low-income families through the Cash Building Blocks program.

Cash recently accepted the annual Chuck Cooper Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award for her work in the community and spoke at the Pittsburgh Pirates African-American Heritage Sports Luncheon.

She doesn’t back down from tough competition on the court and doesn’t balk from the challenge of taking almost 40 local middle-school students on an annual trip to New York City.

“It’s a cultural and sports experience. We’re showing them opportunities,” said Cash.

The trip is an aspect of her Cash for Kids program that uses sports and cultural activities to motivate, educate and elevate all youth.

“Sports for young women is invaluable,” said Cash. “Sports teach lessons, not just to be the best but how to be a team player, how to push yourself. Sports helped me in sports and business.”

Cash has seen big improvements in sports opportunities for young women, but she says we can do more.

“We need to we start to acknowledge the people that came before us and the women now like Tanisha Wright and Ashley Battle, also WNBA players, and the other number of females that come from Pittsburgh, that have success,” said Cash. “Women are starting to be in the forefront. We make up half the population and we have the potential for a woman to be president. Women are stepping up and taking the torch.”

Cash, Wright and Battle continue to represent the best of the City of Champions outside of the city. The WNBA explored a possible team for Pittsburgh back in 2004, but no expansion team has ever come to this city.

“Pittsburgh is a sports town and there are so many girls in sports; I would love to see a pro WNBA team,” said Cash. “I would love to see investors take on that opportunity and any investors who want to make it happen should get in touch with me!”