Kansas City emerges as hotbed for women’s sports, riding Current’s momentum

Volleyball, softball among sports rapidly growing in stature
More girls are playing sports, but access becoming segregated
Posted at 5:10 PM, May 09, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With the opening of CPKC Stadium in March, the Kansas City Current drew international attention to the city’s support for women’s sports, but it’s actually nothing new.

“We've been on the cutting edge for decades in Kansas City when it comes to women's sports,” Kathy nelson, the president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said. “We have Win for KC, a program that is 25-plus years long now and the impact it's had on girls and women and participation in sport. The Women Leaders in College Sports is based in Kansas City then you think about the KC Current what they've done. Yes, there’s certainly a movement in Kansas City.”

Creating opportunities is the key.

“When you have the support, right — when your community supports you, when the media supports you, when the coaches support you — it keeps those athletes in the game,” two-time Olympic softball pitcher Monica Abbott, who now resides in Lee’s Summit, said. “That's the key, especially in female sports — soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball — is to take those athletes and keep them in the game long after high school.”

Monica Abbott
Monica Abbott

That means providing opportunities to stay connected with the sport after college — whether that’s professional playing opportunities, sports administration jobs, coaching or training.

“Keeping them in the game allows the game to continue to grow,” Abbott said.

Kansas City has always punched above its weight class at the youth and high school level when it comes to girls sports — especially soccer, basketball, softball and volleyball — but that momentum is surging into college and pro sports now.

“Women's sports has been knocking on the door for many years,” Lori Thomas, president of the Kansas City Professional Women’s Volleyball Team, said. “Now, with social media and the expansion of streaming and the expansion of television coverage, they are finally taking a chance on women's sports.”

Lori Thomas
Lori Thomas, president of the Kansas City Pro Women's Volleyball Team

KC Volleyball, which will announce its branding and roster in the coming months, will join the Pro Volleyball Federation next season as it expands to 10 teams for its second season beginning next January.

Thomas believes Kansas City is the perfect market for the fledgling league.

“There are 17,000 club (volleyball) players in Kansas and Missouri,” she sad. “If you narrow that down, in an hour radius of Kansas City, there are 10,000 players. You take those coaches plus we have 13 colleges from NAIA, NCAA and junior college, and many are very successful, so I feel like we’re a volleyball capital in the United States.”

In other words, the Current are just the tip of the women’s sports iceberg in Kansas City, which now includes Abbott and her hope to build a softball empire after retiring from playing.

Abbott’s husband, Jeff, is a Raytown South graduate, so the couple had a familiarity with the area.

“I fell in love with a Kansas City man,” Abbott said. “What can I say? You’ve got to be careful with those. You really do, because they'll take your heart. But a lot of our relationship was here, so it just made sense when we wanted to settle down to make Lee’s Summit our home.”

It also made sense because of Kansas City’s robust youth sports culture, including girls sports.

“My biggest goal right now is just to create a community of softball players — a community of pitchers and catchers — and take them to the next level,” she said. “Let's develop the next Monica Abbott. Let's develop the next Olympian, the next Tennessee softball star or Mizzou softball star. Let's help develop those athletes and take them to the next level by doing that.”

Abbott already offers pitching lessons, will host the MA14 Speed Retreat for elite high school pitchers in August, and announced the MA Classic Softball Tournament for mid-October in Olathe.

“Kansas City is a hotbed for women's sports,” Abbott said. “We’ve got the Current. We’ve got professional volleyball. We have a huge contingent of softball athletes here in this area.”

She wants to keep building the groundswell of support for girls and women’s sports.

"There's this recognition and there's a support system now that maybe didn't exist 10 years ago — and it's cool," Nelson said.