This past summer, on assignment to snap some photos of basketball camp, I came across a young scholar named Winter Smith, who reminded me a lot of my younger self on the court.
Watching her, I was transported back in time, remembering what it was like to learn the fundamentals of the game. Even from the sidelines, I could tell this fifth-grader had a fire inside her. Standing at the baseline, Winter focused on taking in every word coach was saying. She worked on her dribbling with her knees bent (knee pads and all), head up and one arm out to protect the ball so nobody could steal it. I could tell she took this game seriously as she raced through her sprints, finishing before most of the boys and when the group made a mistake or was not listening she was the first one running to the baseline when others were dreading another sprint.
Winter started playing basketball three years ago, at age 7, after spending many days watching her brother and father play. When I asked what basketball meant to her, she replied, “Basketball means working hard and having fun.” It came as no surprise to me that winning is her favorite part of the game. But when I asked about some of her most memorable moments, her answer was completely unexpected.
Winter talked about a game in which her team had taken an early lead but then lost it. Instead of giving up, she and her teammates decided to fight—and when the game was over, they came out with the win. Then she told me about last season, when her team made it to the championships but lost. Sitting there in her uniform she sat straight up and told me proudly and with wisdom beyond her age that what made that moment memorable was how hard her team had worked to get there, and the loss is just something she can use as motivation to make adjustments and work harder for the upcoming season which said she, eyes lit up, she plans to win.
Winter reminded me of something very important: The lessons a young player learns on the hardwood are ones that she will carry with her and apply throughout her life. While they may be the same principles taught in the classroom—teamwork, perseverance, focus—they sink in in a completely different way on the baseball diamond or the soccer field or the basketball court.
For me, basketball afforded many opportunities I would not have otherwise had. As a student, I always understood the importance of academics and genuinely enjoyed school, but playing basketball helped to push me forward in other areas of my life. Having that outlet showed me how important it is for students to have different avenues for their talents and energies. This is why I help with an organization, Battle in the Bluffs, that focuses on the importance of extracurricular outlets, developing passions and using the lessons learned to enhance academic experience and similarly why I have been proud to work at Success. We really strive to provide multiple avenues for all students and to help them identify and develop their talents, starting as early as kindergarten. Scholars have the opportunity to participate not just in sports but also chess, debate, dance, theater, entrepreneurship, and the list goes on.
I was lucky enough to have access to many of these same opportunities growing up but unfortunately it was not until I moved out of NYC and into a private school. I am fully aware this is not a scalable solution for every child nor should it be. This is why the work being done and the opportunities provided here at Success, a public charter school, are so important.
When I was Winter’s age, I had hopes of playing for the WNBA when I grew up. That dream didn’t come to fruition, but it still propelled me forward. One of the awesome things about my job now is being on the ground watching young people grow and learn. Winter has her own WNBA dream, and even now at age 10, she knows that everything she learns on the basketball court will serve her well regardless of where life takes her.