If you keep up with Princeton athletics at all, the names Abby Meyers and Marge Donovan are anything but new to you. You may know senior guard Meyers for her unstoppable scoring on the basketball court or her selection as Ivy League Player of the Year. More recently, you have likely seen senior defender Donovan’s lockdown defense and All-American caliber play for women’s lacrosse.
Their tale began with a showdown in the seventh grade — the Ravens against the Lady Bulldogs — in Maryland’s Rising Stars basketball championship. Despite Meyers’ 30 points for the Lady Bulldogs, Donovan and the Ravens took home the championship trophy. The two did not know each other at the time, but almost 10 years later, they joined the Princeton community. It seemed as though fate had a plan for the two athletes, who eventually began dating in college.
As a senior in high school, Donovan opened up about her sexuality to her family and friends. Although she struggled with her identity, she recognized that she had her family as part of her support system.
“It was very new to everybody at first, but I, at this point, could not ask for a more supportive family,” she told The Daily Princetonian.
Donovan’s family, which Meyers jokingly described as “a whole [other] level of competitive,” also nudged Donovan into the world of sports. Athletics acted as another important form of support for the budding young athlete. In her conversation with the ‘Prince’, Donovan noted the welcoming nature of her sports teams growing up.
“While I was struggling with my identity, the best thing about sports was that nobody cared. In a good team culture and competitive environment, it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you identify, you're just playing,” she said. “And I think that I was super lucky to be in an environment where that was the mentality.”
Meyers echoed the sentiment of openness in her sports teams through her journey as a high school basketball player.
“A lot of my teammates were part of the LGBTQ+ community and were not afraid of talking about their lives outside of basketball, so it was a very welcoming space,” she noted.
For Meyers, the Princeton basketball team has also exemplified an open community, especially for LGBTQ+ people. In her first year, head coach Courtney Banghart, as well as most of the entire coaching staff, were members of the LGBTQ+ community. Having people to relate to and connect with, it was easy for Meyers to feel welcome and included on the team. Current women’s basketball coach Carla Berube is also a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, with a wife and three children. According to Meyers, she fosters a caring and welcoming environment.
Donovan, on the other hand, is the only openly gay member of the women’s lacrosse team. Still, she still knows that her teammates love her for who she is and support her in any situation.
“Just having people on your team that you know have your back just makes life so much easier,” she said. “That could be your best friends, it could be your dance group, or whoever, but for me that’s my sports team.”
Being part of an inclusive and welcoming community, no matter the context, is an extremely powerful part of sports for both Donovan and Meyers. Events like Pride Night games here at Princeton have helped the two feel at home on their teams and within themselves as LGBTQ+ athletes. On top of providing a healthy environment, Princeton sports introduced Meyers and Donovan to their best forms of support: each other.
While both women have found a community that welcomes them, they recognize that not all LGBTQ+ athletes may share such positive experiences. They note that, unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ athletes do not feel the compassion and acceptance that they have personally experienced through sports, even within Princeton’s community.
“I was going into a program that really had a safe space around it for people of any type to go in there and play for them,” Meyers said, “but not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a space like that.”
Recognizing this, the two trailblazers, along with Meyers’ teammate junior forward guard Lexi Weger and senior diver Colten Young, started Princeton’s Queer Student-Athlete Collective. The group offers a safe space for Princeton athletes who identify as LGBTQ+ to convene, share stories, and join a welcoming community of similarly identifying peers. The group aims to quell the anxiety that comes with the pressure and isolation of being a queer athlete by creating an environment where people can feel comfortable and supported.
“There's sports where certain stereotypes can kind of block or overshadow a person and make them scared to be who they are, so QSAC is a safe space — a confidential space — for people who don't feel comfortable in those spaces to enter into this one,” Meyers said.
Meyers and Donovan’s desire to leave a lasting impact on the Princeton community is inspired by their LGBTQ+ role models in professional sports. Lacrosse player Michelle Tumolo, as well as U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team star Meghan Rapinoe and her wife, WNBA legend Sue Bird, have all used their platforms to spread awareness about the LGBTQ+ community in athletics. Donovan and Meyers have replicated the efforts of Bird and Rapinoe here at Princeton by proudly representing their community on the field and the court while also fostering a safe space through QSAC.
Regarding her goal of making a positive social impact like her role models, Meyers told the ‘Prince,’ “I think if one kid reads this or goes to a game on Pride Night and realizes how awesome the environment is, it could really add a new meaning to how they see pride.”
“To me, that's the true meaning behind sports,” Donovan added. “What you do within your own team, but then also what you do with your platform.”
Eric Fenno is a contributor to the Sports and Prospect sections at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.