It was a home court advantage for about 40 girls between the ages of 9 and 11 as they attended a basketball clinic hosted by BronxWorks in partnership with the WNBA team New York Liberty and the American Dairy Association North East.
The local nonprofit teamed up with New York Liberty for the second year to teach the next generation of female hoopers fundamental basketball drills, such as ball-handling, defense and rebounding skills. The American Dairy Association North East partnered with BronxWorks to teach the girls about its “Fuel Up” program, which helps to meet the needs of schools nationwide, teaching about fueling healthy bodies and healthy minds.
BronxWorks Director of Middle School After-School Programs Dina Brown shared that last year, the New York Liberty reached out to BronxWorks because they wanted to hold an event in the Bronx to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
“We did it. It was a great turnout. And [the New York Liberty] reached out again and said, ‘listen, we want to bring this back to the community and your girls.’ So they are here, and we’re doing it,” Brown said.
Brown was excited that the Liberty once again teamed up with BronxWorks to teach the girls new skills and bring them out of their comfort zones.
“Many of [the girls] have never played basketball,” Brown said. “They were excited about the event, but they were nervous because they were like, ‘I don’t know how to play basketball.’ But when I told them this is about having fun and learning and meeting new people and trying things differently, they were open and they were like, ‘Okay, let me try.'”
Brown hopes that the basketball clinic will be a recurring yearly event.
“I am hopeful and we are going to push that it is,” Brown said. “Because it really allows for the opportunity for the girls to come on board and learn something new.”
Liberty Assistant Coach Roneeka Hodges and four Liberty clinicians gave the girls a crash course in the basic ins and outs of the games.
BronxTimes asked Hodges, who played professionally in the WNBA for 11 years, what it meant to her to teach young girls basketball in a field that is still largely male-dominated.
“It means everything to me,” Hodges said. “That’s what this day is about. This day is about celebrating female athletes and the history and everything we’ve accomplished.”
According to the WNBA, the 2023 regular season was the most watched in 21 years, up 21% over the 2022 season and saw record-breaking viewership, attendance and digital engagement. However, the salary discrepancy between the WNBA and the NBA is still stark — the average WNBA salary is about $103,000, but it is around 9.4 million for the NBA.
“This is a fight that we’re fighting every single day,” Hodges said when asked about the pay disparity. “I think that we are headed in the right direction right now. You see viewership up and women’s professional sports in the WNBA; you see us having a good product out there. So I think the goal in mind is more pay. But we’ll also continue to have a good product and provide a good product for the world to see.”
After the workout session, Hodges, Phaidra Knight, the first African American World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee and MMA fighter, and Dina Brown highlighted the importance of elevating young women in sports during a panel discussion, encouraging the teenagers to follow their dreams.
Knight, a former attorney, said her goal is to elevate women’s sport.
“I want to see more girls like you playing sport, not only at your age now, but through high school and beyond,” Knight said.
Brown called on the girls to “keep pushing.”
“Every time you step on the court, or the field, or whatever area that it is in sports that you’re showing up, you have to give your 100% because people are watching, and you always want to just do your best, and put your best foot forward and be confident,” Brown said.
Hodges said the girls were at the perfect age to set goals and pursue their dreams.
“Don’t be scared to be fierce,” Hodges said. “Women are fierce. There are not many things that we should be scared of. Sometimes, we shy away from the limelight. Sometimes, we shy away from competition. We shy away from it because we think that something is not going to be accepted. If we just continue to stand firm in who we are and go after the goals that we set, I think that it could be a great opportunity for you guys to grow into whatever it is that you want to grow into.”
Eleven-year-old Juju Thompson has been playing basketball on a team in Riverside for the past two years. She said the clinic was “inspiring” and aspires to be a professional basketball player.
“It was so fun,” Thompson said. “I made new friends and I figured out how to do other passes.”