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Showering Encouragement Seattle Reign Players Urge Kids To Stay In School, Follow Dreams

Thu., Oct. 16, 1997

Members of the Reign Seattle’s first professional women’s basketball team spend their off-season traveling to schools and community centers around the state.

They talk to kids about the importance of staying in school and pursuing their dreams.

They tell them good athletes are both female and male.

There were no such pep talks when these players were growing up.

“Most of my team, especially when we were younger, didn’t have women to look up to,” said forward Rhonda Smith. “That’s really why I like to be able to do this.”

Smith, along with Reign forward/center Linda Godby, dropped in at the East Central Community Center last Thursday to talk with the kids and play a little ball.

The team was in town to take on the San Jose Lasers in their final US West Tip-Off Tour exhibition game.

East Central neighborhood families crowded the bleachers. Outside, vans from the East Central Community Center and the Martin Luther King Academy lined up to pour more kids into the gym.

“You may not like sports, but there are other things you’re good at,” Godby told them. “I want to encourage you guys to find something you really like.”

Part of the tour’s purpose is to provide this kind of outreach, said Melinda Williams, director of corporate development for the Reign.

“When we started the season, it was just little girls and their parents (at the games),” she said. “Now it’s become more of a community thing. They like to see strong women athletes.”

The kids were listening. Every arm in the room shot up when it came to question time. How tall are you?

Are there any other players on the team?

What do your uniforms look like?

Did you go to school?

“Oh, yeah,” said Smith. “Every woman on the team has to finish four years of eligibility in college.”

The message went out to a lot of girls, but plenty of boys were on hand, too.

Denise Lewis left work early to make sure her three kids, daughter Faryn, 11, son Jordan, 7, and daughter Sydney, 6, were there. She said that, for Faryn especially, this was an important day.

“She was so excited,” said Lewis. “She said, ‘Mom, we have to go.”’ The Seattle Reign are catching on.

Autograph sessions after regular season games have stretched to 2 hours, said Williams. And it’s not just girls anymore.

Williams said she was told of one 5-year-old boy who got to go to a game with his dad when his sister was too busy. The boy jumped around and cheered throughout the whole game, and when it was over, he turned to his father and said “Dad, can boys play basketball, too?”

“I thought, ‘That’s what it’s all about,”’ Williams said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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