By Samantha Thompson & Nicole Ramsey

When Brandi Chastain spoke, everyone listened. And when she tightened her ponytail, every girl in the room seemed to do the same.

The World Cup soccer champion and Olympic gold medalist is one of the most recognizable female athletes, due to her celebration at the 1999 World Cup when she pulled off her shirt just moments after scoring the game-winning goal. Chastain came to UC Santa Cruz on Saturday for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which began in 1987. Saturday marked the fifth year that UCSC has hosted a NGWSD event. Chastain came to give a talk about what it means to be a woman in sports today, which went well with this year’s theme: “All In.”

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But Chastain wasn’t the only woman with words to inspire.

After UCSC’s athletic director Linda Spradley gave a short introduction, Gabby Houston, coach for the Mount Madonna High School girls’ volleyball team, spoke about leading her team to the 2007 state championships, when they won against all odds without key players while relying on the smallest team member.

Santa Cruz Sentinel reporter Julie Jag then led a panel discussion with the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) female fighter of 2007, Carina Moreno, who hails from Watsonville; San Lorenzo Valley High baseball player Kitt Allenser, who was the first girl to play for the team; Harbor High soccer player Tania Ortega; UCSC senior women’s soccer player Didi Ramirez; and UCSC senior recreational swimmer Tahrier Sub Laban. The athletes spoke about the challenges they’ve faced in sports, as well as the obstacles they’ve had to overcome.

“We have these world-class people right here, which is tremendous,” Spradley said. Chastain hails from San Jose and Moreno lives in Watsonville. “That’s one thing about the central coast: It really does have some special people who have done a lot of neat things.”

Sub Laban addressed the issue she has faced as a Muslim woman in swim classes. Luban wears full-coverage swimwear in the pool for modesty. But Sub Laban clarified that her Islamic faith didn’t keep her from swimming — people did.

“When I spoke about my challenges, my intentions were to let the young girls know that they could achieve anything no matter how hard it is,” Sub Laban said.

Moreno was happy to tell all the young girls in attendance about breaking into a male-dominated sport.

“People have read a lot about me in the newspaper,” Moreno said. “So the fact that they got to meet me in person and hear me talk about my story and how I got started was great.”

After the panel discussion, kids, parents and UCSC students went outside to kick around a soccer ball with Chastain for a little while before she eventually sat down to sign autographs and sell autographed copies of her book “It’s Not About the Bra: How to Play Hard, Play Fair, and Put the Fun Back into Competitive Sports.” She also signed a few sports bras in the process.

Chastain discussed the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI), a public-benefit, nonprofit corporation that she created in 2005 along with fellow World Cup champion Julie Foudy and Marlene Bjornsrud, the former general manager of the San Jose CyberRays women’s professional soccer team.

“We recognized how great sports had been for us,” Chastain said. “We wanted to continue to highlight sports in our community, and we needed young girls to participate for all the things it gives off of the field. You can learn valuable lessons through sports.”

According to Chastain, part of BAWSI’s mission is to provide “a meaningful path for women athletes to become a more visible and valued part of the Bay Area sports culture,” not to develop dominant athletes.

“We weren’t interested in creating world champions or Olympic gold medalists,” Chastain said. “We were more interested in having young girls aspire to be the best person they could be while being strong and healthy, and those are lessons they’re not getting in schools today because of the lack of the funding. It’s just not a priority, and we want to make it a priority for them.”

While the event did not end up attracting as many attendees as expected, there were still many children, community members and UCSC students who attended in passing.

“Not as many people came as we had hoped, but at the same time the girls who were there got so much personal attention,” said Alina Tejera, a member of the planning committee. “And every year it gets a little better.”

There were tables of food and giveaways for all who attended the event, and as people exited, the coordinating committee couldn’t help but feel pleased with the message that they helped bring across.

“Sports in general help us grow as women,” Spradley said. “All the things that translate into business, life and relationships all have to do with what you do on athletic teams. Everything is better with sports.”