Five years ago, Monica Engleman and CeCe Harper sat in front of a gym in two chairs. They were there, no to do what they normally do in a gym, they were in attendance to speak. Their audience was 50 or so girls, ranging from 1st graders to soon to be high schoolers.
Both Engleman and Harper were part of a highly competitive club program and back court mates at Madison high school. Both young women would go on to play and at times start for Kansas University, helping them to back to back appearances in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Being relatively new to the upper levels of club basketball, I asked Harper and Englemans' club coach if he could arrange for them to speak to the kids in my group. I also asked if his assistant coach, a mother and mother figure to both of the kids, could speak to the parents of my group as well. Hearing the road to elite basketball from the mouths of those that are currently traveling it was the intent. What happened that day has stayed with me ever since.
In the crowd that day was my 7 year old baller. She had little choice about playing the game, having an older sister who lived in the gym and a father whom kept them there. However, my 7 year old was not in love with the game. She spent countless hours in the gym, while big sis played and I coached, reading or enjoying kiddie movies on a portable dvd player. She took to the game easily but the game did not excite her.
The 7 year old knew of Ivory Latta and her tremendous career at UNC. Her big sister would never miss an important game and Latta was a marketable star that captured many young players attention. My 7 year old thought she looked like the Ivory Latta, so she identified with her and took a passive interest in her. Having someone to emulate on a TV screen is not the same as a "real life" example. That is what my 2nd grader found in CeCe Harper.
Her 7 year old mind spoke that day of a truthfulness that made me understand that by relating to a person, they can become role models, intended or not. At that time, Meighan Simmons was the most heralded player in San Antonio. Monica Engleman was also well respected. While my 7 year old admired them and their brilliance, it was CeCe Harper that allowed my child to "be" her. While Monica, in her out going personality and frequent smile, spoke to the kids about her experiences, it was CeCe Harper that captured my baby's mind. CeCe was reserved. She was well spoken and thought before she answered. She, along with Monica, brought a back pack full of letters and communication from college programs in order to show the listeners the eventual rewards of their hard work. I was elated. But, my baby girl floored me with how profound CeCe was to her psyche.
" Dad, Cee' is like Monica, and I'm and like CeCe". What? Why? How could her young mind come to this conclusion. I immediately started contrasting their games. Her bigger sister played an entirely different style than Monica. In fact, her game was more CeCe's. When prompted as to why she said that, my baby stated that she is like CeCe because they have the same skin complexion. Wow! Like the skin complexion of Ivory Latta. My child, who is raised in a diverse family, attends a diverse school and has diverse friends, SAW that she could be a great player because of how she looked like a great player! It was not the fact that my baby went behind the back in a basketball game BEFORE her big sister. It was not the fact that my baby would score 20 point games vs boys in kindergarten. It was not the proclamations from the parents of Meighan Simmons and CeCe Harper that she was going to be better than big sis. She SAW herself being a basketball star because she had a tangible example in her face named CeCe Harper!
In the increasing competitive world of club ball and the more popular the female game becomes, we ought not to forget that these young women are potential role models. You, young basketball stars, should not underestimate the power you have on the young minds of these hoopers, following your examples. It is also important that coaches. all of us, high school and club, help develop the young women we lead into people that the youth should emulate. Because like it or not, the players will lead, they will be an example to some kid(s), good or bad!