Today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and tight end Rob Gronkowski revealed the recipients of the second annual Buccaneers Girls in Football Scholarship, a first-of-its-kind academic scholarship program designed to benefit graduating female high school football players pursuing a career in sports. The four 2021 scholarship winners – Jordan Bryant (University of Florida), Shivanie Ghansiam (University of Florida), Malia Hollins (Howard University) and Lydia Houle (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) were delivered the news by Gronkowski, who surprised and congratulated the recipients.
"These young women are showing the world that football is a sport for everyone," said Gronkowski. "They've earned this scholarship through their hard work, dedication and love for the game. It's an honor to meet them and I'm excited that they'll get to kick off the season with us at Raymond James Stadium."
As a special recognition for their scholastic and athletic efforts, the four students will be traveling to Tampa and attending the NFL Kickoff Experience at Julian B. Lane Park on Thursday, September 9 courtesy of the team. There, they will be welcomed on stage during the fan event before attending the Buccaneers' season opener versus the Dallas Cowboys as guests of Gronkowski. The young women will have a chance to view the action aboard the pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium and will be recognized on the BucVision video screens during the first quarter.
"The Buccaneers are committed to increasing awareness of the opportunities for girls and women in football and supporting them in this pursuit," said Buccaneers Co-Owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz. "These student-athletes are leading the way by pursuing their goals, and that's what this scholarship is all about. We are proud of these young women who represent a generation of girls that are making an impact on the field, in the classroom and in their communities."
The Girls in Football Scholarship, made possible through a $250,000 commitment from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation, was established for graduating high school seniors participating in a form of organized football with plans to enroll in a full-time accredited four-year college or university. Candidates were required to have earned a minimum 3.0 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) during their high school academic career and were asked to submit essays on how they planned to use their future career to make a positive impact in the sports industry.
"From a young age, girls are often told no, you can't do something because it's a boy's sport," said Houle, who is starting her freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and pursuing a career in exercise science. "By seeing other girls in areas such as football or as executives in companies or really prominent positions, it gives girls somebody to look up to and say, 'I don't have to be told no. I can do that if I want, it doesn't matter that I'm a girl.'"
Houle, who kicked on the Westminster High School (MD) varsity football team her senior year and was the only girl on the roster, became the first girl in her county to play and score points in a varsity football game.
"My junior year, a coach on the football team asked me, 'Hey, do you know any boy soccer players that could be a kicker for us next year?'" said Houle. "I paused and said, 'Why can't it be a girl?' In that moment, I realized I've been told no this whole time – but why? So, I decided to get involved… I have little sisters and I wanted them to see that you can do whatever you want, don't let it stop you because you're a girl."
Ghansiam, a freshman at the University of Florida, was active with her high school flag football team and wants to see the sport grow to greater heights.
"The Buccaneers see the passion, the drive and the love that we have for the sport," said Ghansiam, who is pursuing a degree in Political Science. "I truly want to impact the sports industry. It's about that recognition and bringing awareness to the sport of flag football, opening the doors and having a large audience see that we really love what we do. I want to open people's eyes to a new sports realm."
Said the University of Florida freshman to Gronkowski: "Thank you so much for this opportunity and granting me this scholarship. It's amazing meeting you – congratulations on the Super Bowl win!"
The recipients of the second annual Buccaneers Girls in Football Scholarship:
Jordan Bryant (Hialeah Gardens, FL)
- Attending: University of Florida (Business Administration)
- High School: Hialeah Gardens Senior High School
- Future Plans: Pursuing business administration, with a long-term goal of helping lead the NFL's marketing efforts and expanding the game of football for women.
- Shivanie Ghansiam (Bradenton, FL)
- Attending: University of Florida (Political Science)
- High School: Lakewood Ranch High School
- Future Plans: Pursuing a diverse career path involving law, real estate and public service. Ghansiam wants to enhance access to flag football for girls who don't have the opportunity to play; establish flag football as a nationally-recognized sport at the collegiate level; and strengthen gender equality in the workplace.
Malia Hollins (Powder Springs, GA)
- Attending: Howard University (Engineering)
- High School: Hillgrove High School
- Future Plans: Passionate about a career in engineering, Hollins plans to combine her athletic abilities, technical acumen and math skills to apply her learnings to the sports industry – identifying and solving problems that athletes are challenged with.
Lydia Houle (Westminster, MD)
- Attending: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Exercise Science)
- High School: Westminster High School
- Future Plans: Having overcome injuries as the kicker on her high school's tackle football team, Houle is passionate about the field of sports science and paying it forward by helping aspiring athletes like herself in the future
The Girls in Football Scholarship is just one of the ways the organization is committed to gender equality both on and off the field. This year, the team launched the Women's Summit for Careers in Football, an ongoing program that strengthens the pipeline of women pursuing NFL careers through informative, engaging sessions featuring high-profile hosts and Buccaneers leadership. For the past three years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation has hosted the largest girls flag football tournament in the country with the Girls High School Flag Football Preseason Classic, presented by AdventHealth. The multi-day event brings together more than 50 high school teams and over 1,000 student athletes in a round robin-style competition to kick off the high school flag football season in Florida. The team also established the Jr. Bucs Girls Flag Football League, a first-of-its-kind league in the City of Tampa, where the Foundation covers league fees and equipment for all girls who play. And through in-school programming, the Jr. Bucs Middle School initiative brings flag football to more than 35,000 middle school girls every year. To learn more, visit Buccaneers.com/community.