Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy Inspires Blair Participants
Joanne Miceli

Sports and leadership were the name of the game for Blair faculty members and students who participated in the 2019 Julie Foudy & espnW Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA) in July. Founded in 2006 by USA Women’s Soccer legend Julie Foudy and a dedicated team that includes Todd Smith ’90, the five-day camp brought girls ages 12 to 18 together at Peddie School in Hightstown for an intensive—and fun—experience of athletic training and leadership development.

Longtime Blair Connection

Blair’s Dean of Campus Life and Director of Leadership Programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79 returned to JFSLA for her 12th summer as the organization’s co-director of academic curriculum. In this role, she and her counterpart, Jaime Pagliarulo, research leadership work across numerous platforms and develop the leadership program for JFSLA’s residential camps and its portable curriculum. 

Throughout her long affiliation with JFSLA, Mrs. Conforti-Browse has especially enjoyed sharing with the Blair community the organization’s empowering message and the unique, transformative experience it offers student-athletes as they learn leadership skills through sports. “The work I do for JFSLA is my inspiration for Blair LEADS,” she said, speaking about the School’s leadership education initiative, which she oversees. 

Nearly two dozen Blair alumnae, students and teachers have participated in JFSLA camps over the years, including Shamila Kohestani ’08, former captain of the Afghanistan women’s national football team who has advocated around the globe on women’s issues and the life-changing opportunities playing sports can provide, and this year’s student-athletes, Skyler Bogdan ’22 and Melissa Groseibl ’22. Mrs. Conforti-Browse is delighted that her connection to the organization has afforded each Blair participant, whether camper or staff member, the opportunity to meet incredible leaders. 

She has also brought inspirational speakers to campus through JFSLA, including Amy Liss, who addressed the School community on Blair’s Day of Service in 2015, Ms. Pagliarulo, a presenter to LEADS classes last year, and Julie Foudy, who will visit Blair later this fall. “Julie is simply an extraordinary human being!” Mrs. Conforti-Browse said of the former U.S. women’s national team captain, who counts two World Cup championships and three Olympic medals among her many career accomplishments.

A Worthwhile Experience

Blair English teacher and varsity girls’ soccer coach David Mamukelashvili served on the JFSLA staff for the first time this summer, an opportunity he seized after learning about it from Mrs. Conforti-Browse. During camp, he worked alongside Melissa Price, PhD, head soccer coach at Wellesley College, running practices, activities and games on the soccer field and helping teach sessions on leadership, autonomy, freedom, responsibility and other concepts in the classroom. 

Dr. Price quickly became a role model for Mr. Mamukelashvili, thanks to her ability to express complex ideas in just a few words and make them “crystal clear” to 15 girls from five different nations. “Her calm and collected approach to developing and instructing the girls was one of the many lessons I took away from the camp,” he said. 

Another key takeaway was Ms. Foudy’s philosophy that “leadership is not positional, it is personal,” a concept that Mr. Mamukelashvili enjoyed seeing campers take to heart. “The girls continually tried to better themselves and use what they learned in every facet of camp,” he said. “Their questions pushed their learning process even further. The girls bonded, had fun and truly became comfortable in each other’s presence, breaking down all sorts of language or cultural barriers. That’s what made my time at camp especially worthwhile.”

Ms. Foudy will visit Blair on October 17, when she will speak at Chapel and spend time with students, teachers and coaches. Her day on campus promises to be inspirational for the entire Blair community.

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