Kendra Tomsic fell in love with sports at a young age, but when she was growing up, schools didn’t offer girls’ teams. Instead of deterring her, that early experience sparked a passion that still drives her today.
“As a pre-Title IX athlete who never had a coach or even the chance to compete until college, I vowed to help make certain others would have the opportunities I didn’t,” Kendra told attendees of YWCA Utah’s Leader Luncheon on September 13, as she accepted this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Sports and Athletics.
As a pre-Title IX athlete who never had a coach or even the chance to compete until college, I vowed to help make certain others would have the opportunities I didn’t.—Kendra Tomsic
She continued, “I made a commitment to become a coach and athletic director who would not only teach female athletes skills and strategies, but who would use sports to teach and model leadership, strength, confidence, courage, tenacity, resiliency, and the importance of teamwork.”
Kendra’s 42 years of dedication to this work—28 of them at Rowland Hall in roles including director of athletics, PE teacher, and volleyball, softball, and basketball coach—led YWCA Utah to select her as one of five women honored at this year’s luncheon. Award recipients are community leaders who advance the well-being of Utah women and girls, and who exemplify the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. In her roles as an administrator, educator, and coach, Kendra has harnessed her passion for athletics to empower Utah girls and women and to promote high school athletics at the state and national levels.
“It's not possible to overstate her positive impact on athletics in general and girls’ athletics in particular in Utah,” said Head of School Alan Sparrow. “Her commitment to getting women's athletics treated with the same opportunities and respect as men's athletics is inspirational. Through her dedication, diplomacy, and tenacity, girls’ athletics in Utah high schools have improved dramatically. She is universally respected by her peers and they listen to her when she points out inequities.” They’ve also celebrated her: Kendra’s long list of accolades includes a national Distinguished Service Award and state Athletic Director of the Year. But it’s praise from students that best illustrates the importance, and reach, of Kendra’s work. When news of the YWCA award was posted on Rowland Hall’s alumni Facebook page, an outpouring of love quickly followed, resulting in the page’s highest interaction to date.
“I am proud to say I know her.”
“There’s no one more deserving!”
“She’s amazing in every way and her dedication to making young women better athletes and, above that, better people cannot be topped!”
Kacie Tachiki Turcuato ’99 is one alumna who can attest to Kendra’s transformative power. The former volleyball player remembers her coach as a true mentor who believed in her potential, and who had the special ability to bring out and refine her strengths.
“I’m not a natural-born athlete,” Kacie said. “I’m super short and in my first year of high school I was very weak; I couldn’t even get a serve over the net. I just played because it was fun and recreational. But Kendra believed in me, she worked with me, and by the time I left Rowland Hall, I was a stronger athlete: I got the school’s Senior Athlete of the Year, I got Salt Lake Tribune’s Prep Athlete of the Week. I went from feeling like I couldn’t do anything to really feeling accomplished.”
Kacie called Kendra one of the most influential people in her life, and that influence didn’t stop at graduation. Her guidance has inspired Kacie in many ways, from pursuing a career in physical therapy to returning to Rowland Hall as an assistant volleyball coach.
Students have the utmost respect for her, because they just know who she is. When she talks, everyone’s engaged and they trust her.—Kacie Tachiki Turcuato ’99
“I feel so lucky because I honestly think I’d be somewhere totally different without her,” Kacie said. “I’ve had a very fortunate, successful career and life, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t met her. She can really bring out the best in you.”
Alan also spoke of this capability. “Kendra's deep commitment and caring for each and every player and coach she works with is obvious,” he said. “You can hear it in her tone of voice when she speaks to the students. You can see it in the compassion she shows when a player or student is upset or hurt. You notice it when she genuinely shows interest in her students’ lives outside and inside of school.”
Kendra’s compassion comes up again and again when people talk about her; it’s an important factor in how she mentors others. Coupled with an ability to build trust, Kendra successfully models life skills such as confidence, resiliency, and teamwork on the court and field—and students respond to it. “Students have the utmost respect for her, because they just know who she is,” said Kacie. “When she talks, everyone’s engaged and they trust her. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
This is true for Gita Varner ’05, a former volleyball and softball team manager, whose strongest memories of Kendra involve the life lessons she learned from her and now uses every day.
“Kendra was a role model for me on how to be true to yourself and accept everyone as they come,” Gita said. Kendra’s high standards also taught her the importance of hard work. “She helped instill a strong work ethic in me because she always expected me to be doing something.”
Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, and guts—that’s what little girls are made of. To heck with sugar and spice!
And it may be inspiring students to use, and then themselves model, those life skills during and after their time at Rowland Hall that means the most to Kendra. As she closed her remarks at the Leader Luncheon, she shared a quote from professional surfer Bethany Hamilton-Dirks, along with a reminder of the role we all play in female empowerment: “‘Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, and guts—that’s what little girls are made of. To heck with sugar and spice!’ It is my work, and your work, to continue to send that message to young women, the future leaders of tomorrow.”
Thank you, Coach T, for this important lesson, and for the many others you teach student-athletes every day. Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.