GPS Celebrates National Girls & Women in Sports Day

February 3 marks the 35th annual celebration
Girls Preparatory School has long supported and believed in the long-term value of athletics for girls and women. Girls who participate in athletics are known to be more successful in the classroom, in the workforce, and in life. So, on this 35th annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day, GPS celebrates and acknowledges its athletes and coaches for their dedication to female athletics.

“The athletic program at GPS provides a remarkable opportunity for girls to play a wide variety of sports at a high level,” says Director of Athletics Jay Watts. “Our teams are incredibly successful when competing against other teams around the region, but what makes our offerings even more unique is that our girls are able to learn and grow, both physically and socially, in a space designed especially for them. We do not have to be an equal opportunity provider as a coed school would be. We are an every opportunity provider for each student-athlete at our school, from grade six through 12.”

This school year presented a unique set of challenges with the onset of a global pandemic. But GPS enlisted the professional guidance of its on-site COVID coordinator and implemented policies and plans to protect its athletes, coaches, and spectators.

With necessary precautions in place, the athletic season at GPS ensued in August and allowed the student-athletes as close to a normal school-year experience as possible. “Our fall competition schedules were largely unaffected or interrupted by COVID cases or exposures,” Watts says. 

This commitment to ensuring the health and safety of GPS athletes involved practicing in smaller groups, limiting the number of athletes allowed to travel to away competitions, limiting use of the locker and weight rooms, limiting the number of spectators at events, and of course, wearing masks and distancing as appropriate.

As a result, GPS has experienced an exceptional athletic year. To date, the varsity Bruisers have won the state cross country meet, were undefeated in the regular season and runners-up in the state soccer competition, were undefeated in the regular season and lost only to the state champs in bowling, and are currently undefeated in swimming/diving. This fall also marked the commitment of three student-athletes to continue their sports at the collegiate level, with more slated to sign this spring.

Historically, GPS student-athletes commit to playing in college at more than three times the national average and, since 2006, the school has won 22 state and 31 region titles. It’s no wonder since GPS has been known as a trailblazer for girls in sports. 

In 1909, GPS became the first school in Chattanooga to start a girls basketball team. Then in 1974, the Bruisers formed the area’s first girls golf team, followed by the first girls rowing team in 1994, and first girls lacrosse team in 2005.

Currently GPS athletes are competing in myriad sports at Duke University, Dartmouth College, University of Virginia, Howard University, Lipscomb University, and more. And GPS alumnae have gone on to play and coach at the collegiate level, including notable athletes such as Teresa Lawrence Phillips ’76 and Julie Johnson Garner ’80. 

A former athletic director at Tennessee State University, Phillips made history as the first woman to coach an NCAA Division I men’s basketball game and was Vanderbilt University’s first Black female athlete. She was later named one of Sports Illustrated’s "101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports" for 2003 and was inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.

Now in her 25th season as the head women’s golf coach at Rollins College (Winter Park, Florida), Garner has won numerous honors for her coaching. She was inducted into the Women's Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) Hall of Fame, and in 2016, was named WGCA Division II National Coach of the Year in 2016 after leading Rollins to the NCAA Division II National Championship—one of six national and five runners-up titles. The Tars have also won seven of their record eight Sunshine State Conference Championships with Garner at the helm of the program. She has been named the WGCA Division II National Coach of the Year four times and Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year five seasons.

“We want our girls to know that athletics at GPS opens doors that might not be available otherwise,” Watts says. “Many of them may go on to play a sport in college or even coach at a high level. However, athletic participation pays dividends regardless of their future endeavors. Playing sports at GPS can give our graduates the confidence to succeed in any number of professional careers, helping them understand that there is no limit to what they can do. Our coaches work hard to ensure our student-athletes get a great foundation for life while they wear Bruiser black and blue.”