Some of us were destined to become athletes. For me, my athletic fate was declared in the home video of my mother in labor. My father was hoping I was a boy so I could follow in his footsteps and become a “football star,” but my mother knocked some sense into him, reminding him that they might have a girl. He then laughed and said, “Then our little girl will be a star.”
Low and behold, here I am. Luckily for my dad, I instantly fell in love with sports. I always had a ball in my hand, and it's safe to say that I was dribbling a ball before I could actually walk. I’ve loved sports for as long as I could remember.
Once I was at an eligible age, I signed up for every sport I wanted to play. Each year, I was able to love my sports more and more, but notably fell completely in love with basketball. Once my potential and talent were obvious, my parents then allowed me to try out for out-of-town teams. Soon enough I was spending my summers playing in time-consuming leagues, driving state to state. By middle school, I was playing for some of the best AAU teams in New Jersey, with girls from all over who soon became my other family.
By this point in my athletic career, I also had a consistent number: 23. There was no particular reason, other than being influenced by Michael Jordan, but it just happened and it stuck. Although it might sound silly, one of my biggest concerns upon entering high school was not having my number. Thankfully, everything happens for a reason and I was able to. It was claimed and mine for my entire high school career.
Every season leading up to your senior year, you’re always told how quickly your four years will go. You're told to embrace your years playing the sport you love. Then slowly and without any realization, those glory days come to an epic end. Now all those teams, recognition, titles, and championships are something I can never get back. Although I was given the opportunity to pursue my athletics in college, nothing will beat high school sports and wearing the number I was known for having. It didn't really hit me until my senior night and during states.
I’m now the one sitting in the stands, watching games with the other alum, and it’s unbelievably uncomfortable because I'm dying to get out there. I wish I was on that court in my number. Now, as I sit here reflecting on all my years, I just need to tell you something about that very number they call before introducing your name.
As you play my game, in my jersey, on what was once my court, I want you to think about all of those before and after you. Always remember those little girls just now learning to play the game that we have both grown to love. Remember the little girl in you and that first significant basket you made.
There’s a lot of history in that very jersey you are wearing today. It represents your successes and your losses, just like it represents mine. I made shots and missed shots. I had steals and rebounds, just as I've had the ball deflected and stolen from me. There were times when I was anxious. There were times when I was nervous. There were times when I was indescribably angry in that jersey, to the point where it felt like my blood was boiling.
But there was nothing like the smile captured on camera when I stepped on the court during my first varsity game. I’ve had some of my happiest moments in that jersey along with some of my saddest-- like when I cried like an actual baby when I walked off the court after my very last home game.
That jersey isn’t just a jersey--it’s a legacy, and every legacy has its own story. It will never die. As I watch from the stands three years later, watching the very same plays I used to breathe and sleep that you are now executing, you should know that I am expecting a lot from you. I want nothing more than for you to play better than what you think is your best, because even I didn't do our number the justice it deserves.
Don’t take it for granted like I did. Don’t you dare complain about the endless amount of sprints you have to run during preseason like I did with my girls. If I could, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’ll take the sore muscles and elbows to the face. I’ll take back all the ugly bruises that covered almost every part of my body. I’d pretty much do anything to wear that jersey one last time and to see my family, who were my number one fans and supporters, cheering me on in the stands.
Own that jersey. Own that number. Do so with pride. Like myself, it will be the hardest goodbye you’ll make when leaving high school.