Dani Weatherholt wanted to extend herself this season.
It was the motivation behind signing with the OL Reign last winter, leaving an Orlando Pride side that drafted her in the fourth round in 2016 and groomed Weatherholt into a National Women’s Soccer League starter.
The extent of the personal development, however, has reached a depth Weatherholt didn’t expect.
Time for introspection began with the coronavirus pandemic that delayed the start of the NWSL season as states implemented stay-at-home orders. Then came team protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement once play resumed in June. And this month came increased climate concerns after wildfires in the region twice postponed the Reign’s match at Portland due to unhealthy air quality.
“I was really looking forward to going to a new team and plugging myself into an established group,” Weatherholt said during a phone interview Wednesday. “It has been a really weird year to do that, I will say, with so much interchange and uncertainty. But I’m really grateful to be part of this group.”
After a successful Challenge Cup in Utah during the summer, the NWSL is completing its 2020 schedule with a Fall Series. However, the Reign have yet to participate because of the postponed match against Portland, which was rescheduled for Wednesday.
The Reign finally takes the field Saturday in Utah, where they’ll face the Royals at 12:30 p.m. The match can be viewed on CBS All Access.
The Reign, which is based in Tacoma, has been sequestered together in the city and training to prepare. There have also been multiple roster changes where stars like Jess Fishlock and Lu Barnes were loaned to teams overseas. Forward Megan Rapinoe announced she will not participate.
Weatherholt said during the down time, the team has continued a book club started in June to help them address racism within their daily lives. The Reign has also reached out to Black organizations to fight against injustice.
NWSL’s Fall Series is helping by announcing a Community Shield award where the team with the most points will be presented a grant of $25,000 to give to their community partner. Grants of $15,000 and $10,000 will be given to the second- and third-place teams, respectively.
“We’re not just going out there and seeing what happens,” Weatherholt said. “We’re really playing for our community. So often you get to represent your community, but this is in a whole new light. We get to try to win for them and be able to pour those resources into our community.”
The Reign hopes to further its partnership with the Black Future Co-op Fund with the Community Shield grant.
The Fund is in the process of raising $25 million to distribute within Black communities across the state of Washington through already established organizations that focus on education, civic engagement, health and building generational wealth. The concept was crafted by four Black women who are immersed in philanthropy: Andrea Caupain Sanderson is CEO of Byrd Barr Place; Michelle Merriweather is president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle; Angela Jones is CEO of Washington STEM; and T’wina Nobles is president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League.
Byrd Barr Place, a nonprofit organization in Seattle with the goal of transitioning people from poverty to self-sufficiency, collaborated with Cardea Services and the Seattle Foundation to conduct a survey of 41 Black-led organizations to pinpoint their biggest challenges and successes. The Fund is using those findings to guide their aim to make a long-lasting impact for Black people in Washington.
“While many of these organizations receive some philanthropic dollars, their prospects for getting more funds were very limited,” the women wrote in August for an Opinion piece published in The Seattle Times. “These organizations do great work, but they face systemic barriers to funding because philanthropy, like every other system in America, is built upon racist structures. It’s become increasingly clear that if Black people want philanthropy to work for us, we need to build our own model of philanthropy.”
The Black Future Co-op Fund plans to distribute grants by January 2021 and is using the Seattle Foundation as its financial infrastructure.
“They’re four incredible women in the community,” Weatherholt said. “(We’ve) partnered with them to get ourselves involved in the community and when we win the Community Shield, we can pour those resources into them because they’re doing great things.”
Weatherholt appeared in 207 minutes and made two starts during the Challenge Cup. Although the Reign showed chemistry, the club scored only one goal – a 1-0 win against the Utah Royals.
“What’s been really unique about this time is we’ve been able to focus on ourselves,” Weatherholt said. “We’re here and we’re going to make the most of it.”