Atlanta Dream planting seeds in College Park for future athletes, fans

More than 300 boys have signed up to play basketball at the Tracey Wyatt Recreation Complex in College Park. But sometimes, the center struggles to get more than 50 girls to participate.

The Atlanta Dream’s visit last week for a free clinic may help with that, says Kirkland Arnold, coordinator of the boys and girls basketball programs at the center.

“It can do nothing but just help grow girls getting into sports,” said Arnold, who says visibility of his program has already increased. “Lately, it’s been kind of hard getting girls into basketball. So I think if more exposure is being put into the sport, that’ll be very helpful.”

More than 80 young girls worked on various skills with head coach Nicki Collen, assistant coach Darius Taylor and guard Renee Montgomery (who also led the dance contest) during the clinic hosted as a part National Girls and Women in Sports Day. 

“Having these events where we get them out and they have fun, keeps them excited about the sports,” said Collen, who emphasized throughout the event the importance of staying active, whether or not basketball was the preferred sport.

Because playing sports is beneficial in the long run.

In 2015, an Ernst & Young and espnW survey found that 94% of women who were corporate, executive-level managers played sports and 54% of them played at the collegiate level.

Arnold said some of girls’ low participation in sports at Tracey Wyatt can be attributed to social media.

“On the girls side, people on social media (saying) basketball is for boys, tomboys, things of that nature,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of participation is going down in girls sports, specifically basketball.”

Dailey Jefferson and Sierra Sims, two eighth graders from Marietta, are looking to use social media differently, as encouragement. They were chosen to represent the Dream for the Nike Game Growers Training Camp in Oregon and created #NESPSPORTZ, which encourages girls to “never ever stop playing sports.” 

Sims plays both basketball and soccer and doesn’t have a preferred sport yet. Jefferson wants to play in the WNBA, but her backup plan is working at a place like the Nike HQ. Jefferson also has specific basketball goals she’s working toward.

“Get girls more involved in sports, have equal pay because pay is not very fair,” she said. “At all. We need to make millions, too.” 

The clinic was the Dream’s first community event in College Park, where they will play their home games this year in Gateway Center Arena.

Franklin Hodge and his 12-year-old daughter, Sajada, drove in from Douglasville. They haven’t been to a Dream game before, but after meeting coaches, they want to. Hodge says the drive there will be better than the one to State Farm Arena, but the commute will be worse for the parents who drove down for the camp from North Springs or Marietta.

Their commute has nothing on the parent who drove across state lines for the camp.

Shelby Hall, an 11-year old, wants to play sports in college, and has played soccer since she was three. She’s been wanting to try out basketball for a few years now, so her mom drove them both to College Park from Upstate, S.C., for the Dream’s clinic.

“I think it was fun and inspiring for me, to enjoy seeing how they play and just learning some new things,” Shelby said after the event, with a smile. “I loved it.”

Whether any of the players end up on a college or WNBA roster, they are one step closer to becoming lifelong fans of the game, and sports in general.

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