By Walter Villa, Special to STU
Serah Khanyereri was 13 when she saw her first golf course back home in Kenya – and she was shocked.
“When I got to the putting green, it was very pure – like a carpet,” Khanyereri said. “I started asking: ‘Am I supposed to remove my shoes?’
“I didn’t want to step on that beautiful carpet with my shoes.”
These days, Khanyereri steps on putting greens often – but while wearing her golf cleats. She is a star golfer for St. Thomas University, and she has a good chance this spring of becoming a four-time NAIA All-American.
Khanyereri was one of about two dozen STU athletes who gathered on campus on Wednesday for a photo shoot to celebrate Girls & Women in Sports Day, organized by Professor Laura Courtley-Todd.
Anna Toon, who pitches and plays first base for STU’s softball team, also participated in the photo shoot.
A native of Great Falls, Montana, Toon is an advocate for women athletes in general, especially softball players.
“This day represents the growth in women’s sports,” said Toon, who wants to be a college coach and a photographer. “Softball is growing faster than ever before, and it makes me happy to see.
“Baseball players get a lot of post-college opportunities. In softball, there are not as many. But as of recently, there are more opportunities for softball players, and that makes me so excited. There are rising pro leagues in softball, and there are growing summer leagues that college athletes can participate in.”
Alyssa Luna, another member of STU’s softball team, said her father encouraged her to become an athlete.
“My dad’s a big sports fan,” said Luna, who is a double major in Sports Administration and Fashion Merchandising. “He wanted to give his kids a chance to play sports. Luckily, he gave me the opportunity to play softball.”
While almost all of the women who were photographed on the STU campus for this event are athletes, there was one who has taken a different path in sports.
That would be Gabriela Martinez, a doctoral student in Sports Administration who also serves as a Division I college football referee in the Missouri Valley Conference.
A native of Mexico, Martinez was in high school when her brother asked her if she wanted to officiate games to make extra money.
Martinez said yes, and she has been doing it ever since – for 19 years, including four years in the U.S.
“It’s growing,” Martinez said when asked about how many women serve as referees for American football. “Here in South Florida alone, there are seven of us.”
Anquincia Jones can relate to Martinez in terms of being a pioneer.
Jones plays flag football – a relatively new sport for women. STU has only had flag football since 2021, and most other universities do not offer the sport at all.
A middle linebacker for STU, Jones grew up playing basketball, but she has made the switch to flag football – silencing doubters along the way.
“I’ve always wanted to prove people wrong,” Jones said. “I’ve shown the guys that I can play football and be better than them.”
As for Girls & Women in Sports Day, Jones views it as an opportunity.
“As women, we can be feminine and still show some type of masculinity while playing our sport,” said Jones, who is studying Sports Administration and is interested in becoming an Athletic Director.
“We’re representing female empowerment, and we’re showing the younger generation what we’re all about.”