Building Teams and Redrawing Boundary Lines

Congratulations to #KCParks Athletic Director Katie Sowers for being featured in the KCMO Employee Newsletter!

“Since I can’t play football when I grow up, I will play basketball,” wrote an 8-year-old Katie Sowers in her second grade journal.

Sowers lived in a small town of 3,000 and shared a natural love for sports with her identical twin sister. They enjoyed watching football on TV, practicing in the backyard and playing with the neighborhood boys. Their best Christmas memory was a gift of old football jerseys, pads and helmets from Bethel College in central Kansas where their father coached basketball. But there seemed no future in their favorite game.

Still, the heart finds its own way. In college Sowers learned of a women’s tackle team in west Michigan and she traveled 90 minutes each way to play with them. Now, seven years later, she begins her third season with the Kansas City Titans, a semi-pro, full-contact football team in the Women’s Football Alliance. In 2014 she was named the alliance’s offensive player of the year, and in 2013 she traveled with the USA Women’s National Football Team to Finland, where the team won the gold medal.

She also works as athletic director for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. One of her goals is to level the sports playing field for girls and women in the community. “Sometimes we tend to forget that part of the population—urban girls especially get left out of sports and team experiences,” she says. “There’s a huge benefit, but often we look past this.”

In Sowers’ ideal world, girls would be free to play football, boys would feel welcome on the volleyball court and coaches would never admonish the defensive line to “quit hitting like a girl.”

When she organizes the City’s youth sports clinics during the summer for bitty basketball, football and soccer, she makes a point to bring in female athletes (including fellow Titans team members) to make presentations. This not only inspires the girls—it offers the boys a new perspective as well.

“I want to break down barriers and open up opportunities for all kids,” she says. “It’s a culture change. A lot of it is so ingrained.”

In addition to organizing youth clinics, Sowers assists adult leagues, from flag football and basketball to softball and kickball. She manages field allocations, sets up competitions and schedules umpires and referees.

She hopes to leverage her experience and enthusiasm to boost the citywide leagues and the Kansas City Titans to new levels. “They’re both sleepers in a way,” she says, “but they’re gaining momentum.”

Women’s football is particularly unrecognized. “Most people don’t have a clue that this whole world exists,” Sowers says, noting the Titans’ first home game in 2015 is at Shawnee Mission South High School stadium on April 25. She’ll start as quarterback and her sister, Liz Sowers, will be a wide receiver.

“I don’t play football to be a rebel,” she says. “I play because it makes me happy. It’s totally against societal norms, but I’ve never been one to worry about what’s socially acceptable.”

And if she could step back in time and speak to her former 8-year-old self? “I’d say be patient and keep a positive attitude, but push the boundaries. People can do anything they want if they push hard enough.”

Written by Jill Draper, KCMO City Communications