PHILADELPHIA, Pa - The women's soccer leadership group will be introduced over the next couple of weeks on our website and social media platforms. Our goal with this group is to intentionally build an inclusive leadership team which will have a voice in building the foundation of our club culture, strategy and operations.
Today, we are proud to announce one of our earliest group members, who has been an integral part in shaping the vision for this club, as a member of our women's soccer leadership team.
Renee Washington was a Division I three-time All-American and Hall of Fame soccer player at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. She hosts the Union and Phillies shows for PHYL Sports. Renee is now a television analyst for ESPN, NWSL, MSG Networks and the Atlantic 10.
The New Jersey native also works as a motivational speaker and founder of an organization focused on inspiring and empowering others called Planted, not Buried. She lives locally in South Philly.
"It's great to see that we're not just talking the talk. There's been so much conversation about bringing women's pro sports teams to Philadelphia for years so to actually be taking action to make it happen is so exciting."
Q&A with Renee Washington - hosted by Katie VanAken
When did you start playing soccer?
I officially began when I was seven or eight but really at age five with my two older sisters at their rec practices.
Did you play other sports too?
I did. I grew up in a sports family. My sisters and I are "first-generation soccer players" because soccer is new to our family. My parents both played basketball. My dad played professionally overseas.
My aunts...uncles...everyone played basketball, football, track but we [my sisters and I] are the first to play soccer. Growing up, my parents encouraged us to try different sports like swimming, softball, tennis, soccer, basketball. You name it and we played it.
But for me, soccer and basketball were my main two sports and then I started getting into track a little later.
What did you like about soccer?
I was better at soccer. That's pretty much what it came down to. I was much more confident in it and it came much more naturally for me. When it came to soccer, no one had to tell me to do any extra training. I was always walking around with a soccer ball and playing whenever and wherever I could.
Can you talk about your experience playing youth soccer?
Sure. And that was what definitely helped me understand that I preferred soccer over any other sport. I played club soccer out of New Jersey with Hibernian Express. We were originally called Ewing Express we eventually moved over to Hibernian.
I played ODP with the New Jersey state team. I was also on the Region I team. Never made the national team but was in the national player pool. I played for a number of select teams and my high school at Pennington Prep. We were the number one high school in the country while I was there.
The experience helped me learn so much about myself as a player and as a person.
How were you able to juggle varsity soccer and track plus your academics at LaSalle?
Not only did I run track in college while playing soccer, I graduated early with a major in public relations and double minor in Spanish and Psychology. I was done in three and a half years but continued with extra classes because I love school.
But I really never thought of it as a lot. I loved playing soccer so being able to compete and train and help my team accomplish so much while I was there was an incredible experience. We were the first [LaSalle women's soccer team] to make an NCAA tournament appearance, win the program's first Atlantic 10 tournament championship, and I was the first All-American from the program. But it was never too much for me. I still felt like there was a lot of free time as compared to high school.
I enjoyed it. I loved every moment of it even though it wasn't always fun or easy. There were a lot of challenges but I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world. It was an experience that allowed me to mature as an adult and get a sense of who I am, what I wanted and discover my purpose in life. That includes the off the field experiences just as much as the athletic experience.
What drew you to this Philly Women's Soccer project?
It aligns a lot with who I am as a person. Soccer was not always easy for me because there were many times where financially it was a challenge, or even just being the only Black girl on the team, meant that there were different challenges and adversity that I faced that was different than my teammates. I've been so involved in so many aspects of my career with wanting to give back to the game and this provides me the opportunity to provide the next generation a better experience than myself.
Accessibility to the sport can be problematic in this country for a number of reasons, not just financially, but the logistics of traveling or access to fields, access to teams, diversity within the sport. The more that I grow as an adult, and really take a step back and look at things, the more that I realize there is a need for better and a need for more.
This project and everybody involved with it are people that I feel like speak the same language as I speak and understand the values that are bigger than us to help do something that's very much needed in this community to be able to help the next generation and to be able to help others have the experience that they deserve.
How has diversity played a part in your soccer experience?
Diversity for me is not just racial. It's gender, it's socio-economic status. There's so many different components. While I've seen more diverse players within teams, I haven't always seen the inclusive environment to allow for every single player to have the same opportunity to thrive and succeed.
I was fortunate that I grew up in a two parent household. Both my parents have several degrees between the two of them and they played sports so they got it but not everybody has that same experience or same support system. So I think diversity is one part of it but another part of it is the type of environment that your creating to foster growth within a group.
It's gotten better. Just as being a female reporter has gotten better but I can't say that even today that being a female reporter or female soccer player will provide you the same opportunities for success as some of your counterparts. There is still so much more room for growth. There's still so much more that needs to change.
How do you think this club will impact the community here in Philly?
There are so many talented athletes that come out of the Philadelphia and New Jersey area yet when you look at our professional franchises, there are only male teams. That's an issue. For as great as it is to cheer on the Union, the Eagles, the Flyers, the Sixers, the Phillies, where are the women's teams?
It's a disservice to this great sports city to not have a women's team that represents the incredible talent in this area and to entertain the greatest sports fans in the world. This opportunity is not only needed but will help start more conversations around bringing future professional women's teams to Philly as well.
How is this project different from previous women's pro soccer teams in Philly?
Within this league you have more opportunity to create a player pathway and financial incentive to develop players. It will be more than just a professional team. We want to intentionally create a program that's focused on inclusivity, diversity, access, resources, development, growth and expanded opportunity at all levels of the game.
This club is right on time.
Tell us more about your nonprofit...Planted, not Buried.
I started it in 2020 after years of wanting to create something that was bigger than myself. "Planted, not Buried" is really focused on the idea of empowering, inspiring, and educating others by providing them with the resources to succeed not just in the sports world, but in all aspects of life. Understanding that it really does take a village. I've been fortunate that my village has helped me become who I am today but not everyone has had that kind of support.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us Renee.
Thanks Katie. I really appreciate that you're making the effort to speak with me.