I remember when I was very little, my father played in an adult basketball league, and I remember encouraging him with everything in me. I also remember going to basketball games in Tuscola when the old floor was still there and the bleachers were still made of wood. I remember I always wanted to play basketball like my dad, and that’s exactly what I did.
I’ve been playing basketball since I was 4 or 5 years old. It started with Dad cheering at his games. I remember him lifting me up on his shoulders so I could reach the target to shoot. I then started playing when I was 5 or 6 for the Waynesville Recreation League, and I think I played at that level until I was 9. Around that time I wanted to stop playing basketball and dance alone (yes, I danced for 7 years). However, I decided not to give up, because of my father, and when I was 9 or 10 I started playing Waynesville Youth Basketball for three years with the same girls I played with in high school. We played for John Swanger, who is also a pastor of Calvary Road Baptist Church. I could still get his voice out of a crowd, along with the voice of my dad and my high school coach. He always cared about us, and although he was tough at times, he taught me so much about not only basketball, but life as well. Then it came time for high school, and I didn’t really want to play basketball for my 7th grade school, I wanted to keep playing youth ball, but the coach told me it would be harder to play in high school if I am I didn’t start for years, so I did.
In high school, I started to become really self-conscious. I knew I wasn’t the thinnest or the tallest, and I knew I wasn’t the fastest. Still, I gave everything I did, but that still didn’t seem enough. My whole year in seventh grade I played fifth quarter and sat on the couch, and it seemed like nothing I could do could get me playing, and so again, in eighth grade, I thought about going back to youth ball, but I didn’t, and ended up playing a lot more in 8th grade.
However, I do remember my coach telling me that if I didn’t improve the way I shot (because it was weird), I wouldn’t be able to play. I also remember being told at one point that I was not a basketball player. That almost stopped me from playing at all.
In high school, I was so ready to play for my lifelong coach, Ann Gardner. Coach Gardner had taught me since I was a kid, because I used to go to her camps as a kid. Dad was the one who worked me hard, and Gardner was the one who honed my skills. I’ll always remember the first time I shot a left-handed layup at one of her camps, and I thought I was a hot shot. I should also mention that I also wanted to be able to dunk, and I told my father that. Instead of shooting me, he told me I could do it, and so that was a big goal of mine for a long time.
Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, I still can’t dunk.
I played for Gardner in high school and towards the end of my freshman year I was playing some games with the varsity team. I played sophomore varsity until senior year, and in my sophomore year we went all the way to the state championship, but unfortunately we lost at Regionals. Until my junior year, I didn’t want to play basketball in college, but something in me lit up, and I decided to look for colleges to play. The rest is history and now I play at Warren Wilson College.
I say all this, not to pat myself on the back, but to remind myself what this game means to me. All the hours put into it: running, early mornings at the gym, lifting weights, etc. It all started when I was 5, and it all led to it. 14 years of basketball.
Some days it’s really hard to be positive, but it’s so important to stay positive on the bad days, something my dad reminds me of. However, some days I walk into our gym and the familiar smell of wooden floors and sweat hits my nose. The sound of squeaky shoes. The sound of bouncing balls and whooshing nets. Some days I wish I could go back to the beginning and do it all over again. When I take the time to think about where I came from, as a 5 year old girl my father encouraged, to a 19 year old woman who was studying, I feel a lot of pride, and I am very grateful to everyone who believed in me. Especially for my father, who attended every game, who spent countless hours teaching me, who spent a lot of money on equipment and who always, and still believes that I am the best there is. And of course for the gift of basketball.