The real meaning of sports isn’t the accomplishments, accolades, or notoriety. Sure, all of that is cool, but none of that is really what drew me into becoming a student-athlete.
For me, it has always been about the love of the game and the people I’ve met along the way.
Tori Nelson and I talk about it all the time.
What would have happened if we had never pursued athletics? For starters, we would have never ended up at South Dakota State University together. And we certainly would have never become such great friends.
Some of the best relationships and life lessons are rooted in the form of competition. I am thankful to experience this in my life, and my hope is that every aspiring young girl gets to experience it in their life as well.
My role models along the way
When I was that young, aspiring girl, two of my biggest inspirations were my grandfather and sister.
My grandpa never talks about it, but he once scored 50 points in a basketball game.
He won’t admit it, but he was kind of a baller back in the day.
He loved the sport so much that he built a court in the loft of one of our barns. Growing up, it became this family thing to head up there and shoot hoops together.
That’s where I competed with my older sister, Shelby, who really helped me find a deeper love for the game.
She’s about three years older than me, and she played college basketball, too. I got a glimpse of what it was like to be a student-athlete by watching her experience it.
Truly, she was one of my biggest inspirations in making the decision to pursue basketball at the collegiate level.
Seeing her follow her dreams made me think that was something I wanted to do as well.
But it wasn’t just the people in my family who I looked up to.
Despite being from a small town in South Dakota, there were a lot of other female athletes in my area that went on to play here at SDSU.
Jill Young and Macy Miller grew up only 30 miles from me, in Mitchell. Both went on to have very successful careers at SDSU and I even got to play with Macy Miller for a couple seasons.
And then there was Maya Moore.
No list of mine could ever be complete without at least mentioning her. I idolized her when she was at UConn. And it helped that we had the same name.
I may not know her personally, but the impact she’s had on the sport and her work in social justice has made a bigger impression on my life than she’ll ever know.
Some of the best relationships and life lessons are rooted in the form of competition. I was thankful to experience it in my life, and my only hope is that every young girl aspiring to be a student-athlete one day gets to experience it in theirs as well.
I’m sure I’m not the only girl that has been impacted in such a positive way by athletes like Shelby, Jill, Macy, and Maya. Fortunately, I grew up in a family with the financial resources to fuel those dreams.
But the sad reality is — this isn’t the case for every girl.
There are so many talented young women that miss out on opportunities and experiences due to financial reasons.
Unfortunately, too many girls are left behind because of that.
As we reflected on our own opportunities, Tori and I began thinking about ways we could use our platform to make a difference in these girls’ lives.
The summer after NIL passed, we reached out to a few of our trusted professors to talk about how we could use our reach and influence to help more young girls get into sports.
That’s when we came up with “Her Turn”, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding athletic opportunities for young female athletes. Given how passionate we both are about the impact sports have had on our lives, it made sense to want to provide other girls with the same experiences we had.
After raising the funds necessary, we were able to provide scholarships for girls within the Brookings community to attend SDSU sporting camps last summer.
In many ways, our first summer felt like an even bigger win than one on the basketball court. Her Turn has been a passion project for us, and it has been a really rewarding one at that.
All worth it
Launching a nonprofit during basketball season, on top of juggling the other responsibilities that come with being a student-athlete, was a lot more overwhelming than we could have imagined. But when we got to see how our Her Turn campers were impacted by attending camp, it was all worth it.
Each of our campers attended an overnight camp, spent three days on SDSU’s campus, two nights in a college dorm, and had the chance to work with Division I athletes.
One of the coolest parts of this whole experience was getting to work with our campers at our Jackrabbit Women’s Basketball Camp. We got to see the campers come to camp on day one, a little jittery and nervous, and witness firsthand the transformation in their confidence by the end of camp. The difference was incredible – they seemed like different kids.
They not only gained confidence on the court, but they also formed friendships that will hopefully last long after the camps end.
We provided transportation for the three girls attending the SDSU Volleyball Camp. On the way to camp, the car was silent. The girls hardly spoke and were visibly nervous.
When we picked them up after camp, it was like night and day. Tori and I didn’t have a chance to get a word in between their excited chatter.
One of the most rewarding parts of this experience was getting feedback from the parents. We had one mom send us a handwritten “thank you” letter for helping her daughter attend soccer camp. She wanted us to know how much she had seen her daughter’s confidence improve in such a short time.
This note sat with us for a while. It’s these little things that drive us and further validates that Her Turn is the organization we intended it to be.
More work to do
So far, we have awarded nine scholarships — two for basketball camp, two for soccer camp, and five for volleyball camp.
Tori and I both see Her Turn as a sustainable organization. We are already having conversations about what we can do to continue to expand our efforts and impact more girls in the future.
Even if we haven’t mentioned Title IX specifically, our efforts reflect those of the women who have come before us. Our goals remain the same as theirs in that we strive for equality in sports.
We continue to recognize that while we’ve made a lot of progress, there is more to be done. Girls are still being left behind in sports.
Girls drop out of sports twice as often as boys and receive more than one million fewer sporting opportunities than boys each year.
It hurts to think about it.
Sports provide life lessons that you don’t learn anywhere else. You learn how to respond when things don’t go your way, how to be a good teammate, and how to work toward goals that are bigger than yourself.
Many women in leadership roles today often played sports growing up. When you think about the impact sports have on future leaders of the world, it’s especially a shame to think girls have a lack of opportunity to compete at all.
Whether it’s the campers we have met through Her Turn, our teammates throughout the years, our coaches, families, fans, and beyond, the relationships we’ve formed will continue to carry us as we pursue our goals in life. The impact they’ve had on us will extend far beyond any awards or accolades we earn during our careers.
I know I’m here because of the people that paved the way for me, and now, I have an opportunity to pave the way for the next generation.