Your sport of sport: empowering girls and selling social activism by maturation
When Desiree Ale learned of the death of Fabel Pineda, a 15-year-old girl in the Philippines who was killed by two police officers in July, she was immediately affected by the news. Fabel was out with her cousins on the night of July 1 when she was arrested by the Philippine National Police for allegedly getting drunk in public and breaking the curfew.
She filed a complaint against the arrest officers and was killed by them on the way home from the police station. Locos Sur police charged the officers with murder.
At home in Los Angeles, Desiree felt she wanted to discuss the death of a Pineda murder with the young girls who put together her Her Game Sports program. It was important that they use the power of their organization to help others, and Ale created the hashtag #hergamerevolution to give girls the opportunity to use social media as a tool to support them in their pursuit of social justice .
At about the same time as Pineda's murder, the United States was embroiled in a growing movement to address the racial and systemic injustices that persist in the country. Several high profile murders of black Americans by US police officers had sparked calls for change across the country.
Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home when Louisville Metro Police Department officers broke into her home after receiving a search warrant, has become a rally in professional sports, including the WNBA, which dedicated its 2020 season to all women of color, killed by the police in recent years.
Desiree saw this as a great opportunity for the girls to campaign for social change.
"We as an organization have a responsibility to teach them how to react, stand up for them, and find solutions that can lead movements," says Desiree. “When most people think of the term 'revolution', they see violence and fighting. In the world of political science, however, the term also means "to turn around". "
Desiree grew up in the Los Angeles area and went to basketball after watching her older sister Rheina play. Her younger sister Kristen also followed in her footsteps. AAU games were commonplace on the weekends and usually lasted all day for all three girls playing.
Rheina was the first to fall in love with the game after her father introduced her to the sport when she was around seven. She remembers how her father took her to the park with her sisters every day to exercise and get better, and even let them play against boys.
“Our father put all five of us in the car and we were in the gym all day,” remembers Rheina. “Dad packed our lunch for the day and my poor little brothers had to come because they were way too young to be home alone. They had to pack their gameboys or coloring books to stay entertained. I feel like they hated basketball because of those long days at the gym as they watched their older sisters play. "
As the youngest of the three, Kristen kept sucking up as much of her older sisters as possible. She was determined to learn every step of the way and was grateful to have two role models to look up to.
“I wanted to achieve every goal they achieved,” Kristen recalls. “I've seen every single game and always brought my basketball shoes with me just in case they needed an extra player. I had built-in teammates everywhere, on and off the pitch. "
The girls would eventually play together at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, CA. Long one of the best basketball powerhouses for girls in Southern California, Bishop Montgomery is currently being coached by former WNBA Champion Noelle Quinn.
Rheina continued to play at the University of San Francisco while Kristen played at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. But Desiree's path was a little different. She suffered an injury that left her sidelined for a full season and played at Saddleback Community College after high school.
“I had a very imperfect relationship with basketball. An injury that kept me away for a whole season really challenged me, ”said Desiree. “There were also times when I internalized every single negative comment a coach made to me. This affected my grades and my self-esteem. As I grew up, I had to unlearn what I had internalized and teach myself to always be my biggest fan and to love myself. "
As a child, Desiree initially wanted to be a dual athlete in both basketball and softball. Although she loved both sports, it was clear that basketball would shape her career path. Her coach at Saddleback College helped her find the tools she needed to not only be successful on the court, but also overcome the negative stigma often associated with junior college athletics.
Today, as the founder of Her Game Sports, Desiree is reminding the young girls she mentors that junior college is indeed a viable option for academics and post-high school athletes. The organization has already helped some girls reach NCAA Division 1 levels, but they have also enrolled a few children in community college.
"I encourage athletes to understand that each life path will be different and not to compare your journey to anyone else's. I assure them that if you get there with the right work ethic and mentality, you will get where you need to be "says Desiree." The real idea behind every opportunity is to always prepare for the best and not overlook an option that will help you get there. Their game is about encouraging young women to take on to be great at all levels, breaking through every single ceiling they possibly can. "
It was Desiree's transition to life after college that gave her the impetus to start her gaming sport. Neither she nor her sisters played professional basketball, although they represented America Samoa on the women's national team at the 2015 South Pacific Games.
Desiree knew she wanted to get into the sports industry in some way, and when she looked around, she noticed a severe lack of representation from women who work in sports. This is how Her Game Sports was born.
According to a recent study by the Women & # 39; s Sports Foundation, young girls drop out of sport twice as likely as boys by the age of 14. The foundation cited a lack of resources and opportunities compared to boys as a driving factor in why girls drop out of sport more often. That's one of the things Desiree wants to change through her organization.
"It has always been evident that girls are barely represented in sport. The inequality of representation leads to a lack of equality and empowerment, which over time has forced many young girls to drop out," says Desiree. "We are proud We aim to empower young female athletes by teaching them value and how to use their voices, with the aim of breaking down barriers and changing the current culture of athletics for a bigger future. "
Southern California is one of the best places for Her Game Sports to offer reach and opportunity to young girls. The Golden State has long been a breeding ground for top basketball talent, particularly in the Los Angeles area. Desiree and her sisters remember playing “coaches only” in front of the divisions and that Bishop Montgomery's visit enabled them to play against other top schools in the area.
Playing AAU was just as tough as the competition, which was also about competing against equally talented players on the same squad for game time. But even then, despite such a large talent pool, they can remember a noticeable lack of consistent media coverage.
Kristen remembers seeing stories from her big games the night before, when she was banned from the back of the sports section of the local newspaper.
"When I say the back, I really mean the back," says Kristen. “The girls' basketball section was usually a small article about 1-3 games and sometimes with a few pictures. At the time, social media wasn't as extensive as it is now, so media coverage has definitely improved since I was in high school. "
This is one of the areas Her Game Sports wants to change: more representation for young girls in sports. Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought organized basketball games to a standstill in LA, Desiree helped set up a storefront for some of the best aspiring basketball players who hadn't reached high school.
They had another storefront slated for last spring but had to postpone those plans due to the pandemic. Since then, the organization has been very active on social media and has hosted several virtual seminars with some of the best women in both sports and business.
“It is absolutely important for young girls to be surrounded by positive, strong, and accomplished female role models so that they can actually imagine everything that can be achieved. I even remember my mother being there for us every match day, as the loudest in the stands, ”says Desiree. "For this reason, the focus of the organization is on surrounding these girls with as many resilient women in sports as my sisters on a daily basis."
One of the ways Desiree's sisters, especially Rheina, have helped model empowering young girls is through the Drew League for women. The men's Drew League is world renowned and routinely attracts some of the best local NBA, NCAA, and high school talent. The league is also a staple in the South LA community when it comes to creating a safe haven for neighborhood youth and an emphasis on community empowerment. The women's league wants to do the same.
The Drew League for women, usually held in the fall, attracts some of the best WNBA, overseas professionals, and former NCAA talent. In the fall of 2019, when the league last played, some of the girls from Her Game Sports were often there to watch games.
Not only is Rheina a strong role model for the young girls, but she also believes that former players like her must have a point of sale in order to keep playing the game they love.
"I think it's very important. Women needed the opportunity to show their talents just like men," says Rheina. "There are some of us who have had very successful college and professional careers, even though we made up our minds to leave the game professionally, we still have a game inside of us and our love of basketball hasn't entirely disappeared. Even if my body can no longer move as it used to, I love paying attention every year and attracting talent. "
Her Game Sports recently hit the one year mark and launched a global brand ambassador program. One of Desiree's goals is not only to empower young women in the states, but also to provide similar resources and mentoring to young women around the world.
“California has been said to be the Mecca of basketball, but basketball around the world is evolving. Sport is deeply rooted in the culture of everyday life, so girls have choices here that are not available for them in many places, ”says Desiree. “This is one of the reasons Her Game is such a special revolution. It trains, empowers and offers opportunities worldwide. We use this platform to shape young women everywhere. "
One of the countries they have established themselves in is the Philippines. When the news of Fabel's murder first broke, Desiree knew this was an incredibly important moment to discuss with the girls on the program.
With what was going on at home in the United States at the same time, Desiree feared for the safety of her girls.
"That could have happened to any Her Game girl here in America or to our brand ambassadors in the Philippines," says Desiree.
For Desiree, the death of Fabel Pineda and similar murders here in the United States have shown that the lives of women, especially young women of the same color, still play no role in society as a whole. She knows there is a very long way to go to change that. However, she hopes that through her playing sports she can help empower these young women and really make a difference in the world.
"Whether the attitude is that Fabel's life doesn't matter to these cops or that women's sports don't matter because they are just women, the world is constantly trying to show and prove that we have no value and that our voices should go unheard" said Desiree says. "Your game is here to reverse that thought process."
Photo credit: Getty Images and Nikki Boutte.
David Yapkowitz is a writer and reporter for The Next Hoops, covering women's basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @Dave_Yapkowitz
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