The Thomas Jefferson Girls’ Basketball Team is gearing up for a season of success.
The hallways of Thomas Jefferson have been treated to an unusual beat in the past few months. The persistent pounding of basketballs has alerted the staff and students that the TJ girls’ basketball team plans to excel in the upcoming season. Directed by Varsity Coach Damion Allen and Assistant Coach Kathryn Kindle, players of all skill levels come together every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday to train. The young Lady Spartans have dribbled, dodged, and defended their way through the school, not allowing the absence of a court to hinder them.
“[Basketball] makes demands. You have to be a dedicated person to get over the hardships you run up against,” Kindle contended about the sport. As the longest sports season in the athletic department, basketball demands commitment. Every player, from a novice freshman on the c-team to a senior on varsity, is expected to deliver their maximum effort at every practice. “[The coaches] push you because they know how hard you can work and how dedicated you can be,” insisted sophomore Athiang Ater, who hopes to play on junior varsity in the coming season.
The expectations are great, but the rewards are greater. “The biggest change I see in the players is confidence. Girls realize there are things they do well,” Allen expressed. Sports are a known booster of self-esteem, giving girls a sense of accomplishment and providing a space to meet like-minded youth. “I was shy coming in,” reflected Ater, “But now I’m an outgoing person.” Ater and fellow sophomores Ashlee Taylor and Faith Valdez all agreed that becoming a part of the program improved their lives on and off the court. “Basketball is a drive to get your grades up,” commented Valdez. The coaches’ expectations of athletic resolve do not stop them from stressing academic discipline. Kindle, who earned a master’s degree in Education Leadership from the University of Colorado and taught social studies at Thomas Jefferson, places education as one of her top priorities, taking pride in preparing her teams for the future. From the first day of practice, players are briefed necessity of maintaining acceptable grades. “Basketball made us extra committed to our academics,” Taylor recalled.
Improved grades and stronger confidence are highlights characteristic of most sports, but the powerful bond formed among the players and their coaches is what truly distinguishes the TJ girls’ basketball program. “The coaches and the team are so welcoming and supportive,” enthused Taylor. The chant chorused at the conclusion of every practice: “1-2-3 TJ! 1-2-3 FAMILY!” shows the strength of the team’s bonds. “Being a coach means I get to teach life lessons through the game that I love,” Allen proclaimed. From the quick calls of greeting in the hallways to the fun-filled team dinners, there is no shortage of support in the program. Any trace of dysfunction is immediately identified and resolved. Drama and gossip have no place in the program’s equation. “If a young lady comes out to play and she quits because she can’t get along with somebody, it will affect their life…if you quit this, you are going to quit something else,” Kindle advised.
Being a coach can have just as many benefits as being a player. Veteran players often visit the team to reminisce, a mark of the potent comradery that is developed. “I love the game and I wanted others to have the same satisfaction I got from playing,” claimed Allen. As the head coach, he stresses providing ample training to all skill levels, realizing that even the most unskilled beginners have the potential to contribute to the team. Kindle’s inspiration to coach came from her own basketball mentors, whom she credits to shaping her life, but had no idea of the impact she had made until her brief retirement period. “I didn’t know they cared about me so much until I stopped coaching and they were hitting me up on Facebook,” recalled Kindle, remembering all of the TJ alumni that had wanted her to coach their kids. “I know some people say you shouldn’t just look at winning, but I love to win and I think the girls love to win, too,” Kindle admitted to one of her motives for coaching. Regarding adversity in coaching, Kindle maintained, “You have some kids that are going to like you and some that are not. . . I like to compete and that’s just me.”
After their phenomenal performance in the previous season, the TJ girls’ basketball team is expected to continue their success. Though several high-scoring seniors have graduated, the program’s thorough coaching will ensure that there are several stellar athletes to take their place. “We lost a lot of good talent, but we still have a good deal of talent,” Allen insisted. “I see us having to adapt.” Kindle is determined to bring out the best in the team. “I look to get to the Elite Eight this year and maybe even farther,” she predicted. TJ’s sophomores are confident that their experiences in 2018 will ensure a united team going forward. “Last year we came in as freshmen so we didn’t know as much. This year we already have a bond and we can make a stronger team,” Valdez anticipated. Even if the teams encounter a rocky start, the long season provides plenty of space to overcome obstacles.
Regardless of the season’s outcomes, the team will continue to execute what has always made them so exceptional. Their unconditional support and tireless determination will produce outcomes much more meaningful than scoring a goal or winning a tournament. This year, courtesy of the program, girls will find their way in a world abounding in uncertainty. Playing on the team will teach them more than how to handle a ball; they will learn the meaning of teamwork, friendship, and family.