COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Skyhawk Sports Academy has introduced gender-inclusive training for its employees to foster diversity within its programs. 

With locations across Ohio and the U.S., Skyhawk calls itself a leading provider of sports experiences for kids ages 4 to 14, including skill-based camps, after-school programs, classes, and leagues. In addition to educating about different sports, the academy is on a mission to teach life skills through sports. To do this, Skyhawk’s programs center around five core values: respect, teamwork, inclusion, leadership, and sportsmanship.

“We added [inclusion] as one of our five core values because we felt inclusion and all types of diversity should be celebrated,” said Torrie Ruffin, the manager for the Columbus and Cleveland branch of Skyhawk.

In preparation for summer camps, Skyhawk employees participated in training in April to promote acceptance of attendees and staff. The training included a panel of representatives from Positive Coaching Alliance, the Center of Healing for Justice Through Sport, and a special needs teacher. During the panel, employees and panelists worked on how to have inclusive conversations with kids and how to respect diversity.

Now, the training is part of Skyhawk’s process for new employees. Ruffin said it has given employees a place to learn about diversity while finding nuanced ways to demonstrate inclusivity and understanding. Ruffin used the example of a same-sex couple dropping off their child at Skyhawk, and another child asking about the family. Due to training, employees now have the skills to handle those conversations in an accepting manner. 

“Kids are going to ask questions; they’re going to be curious,” Ruffin said. “[We] want them to understand and be respectful of maybe something that they’re not used to in their own home life.”

The training also highlighted how to approach conversations when employees and children hear or receive comments that make them feel unsafe. 

Skyhawk began planning its inclusion initiatives a few years ago, but it came to fruition as the Ohio legislature began considering a number of anti-LGBTQ bills, including a “divisive concepts” bill and a transgender athlete ban

“I’m a very inclusive person. I think everyone should be included – it’s saddening that people can’t be accepted for who they are,” Ruffin said. 

Skyhawk will continue to participate in workshops and find new ways of teaching and promoting diversity. Ruffin hopes the employees’ response to the training continues to be positive and that they feel comfortable handline conversations so Skyhawk exhibits no tolerance policy for racism, homophobia, ableism, or any form of discrimination. 

“There’s no perfect answer for everything,” Ruffin said. “But, at the end of the day, as long as we are trying to make sure everyone’s respectful, that’s one of the best steps we can take.”