A Star to Watch During March Madness Who Models the Love of Family and Basketball
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
With March Madness upon us, stories of high-flying success and triumph through teamwork will abound for men’s basketball. But the women’s game, and its players too, often get overlooked. Leave it to Frank Deford to fill that gap with this NPR commentary about Elena Delle Donne, one of the NCAA’s premiere players.
After two days, Delle Donne left the country’s top women’s program at the University of Connecticut to return home to Delaware. The reason? She missed what was most important to her: her family, namely her sister Lizzie who was born without sight and without hearing and has cerebral palsy. But, as Deford points out, ”…for Elena, it was not a matter of leaving anywhere. No, it was only a matter of wanting to be somewhere, with someone where she thought she was more valuable, where she mattered more in life and love.”
These are the stories that swell people’s hearts. Not because of the pain, but because many of us have faced a scenario in some ways similar to Elena Delle Donne’s. We’ve all had to make choices that take us away from our home or the ones we love, whether for work or military service or schooling. The 6’5” All-American did what we aspire to do — to prioritize what’s most important to us and succeed while doing what’s right.
Transgender Male Athlete Plays for NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Team: From Kay-Kay to Kye
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
George Washington University point guard Kye Allums recently made headlines as the first known transgender student to play NCAA Division I college basketball. At a press conference held last month, Allums announced: “I am a transgender male, which means feelings-wise, how it feels on the inside, I feel as if I should have been born male with male parts. But my biological sex is female, which makes me a transgender male.”
Allums’ teammates and coach now use the pronoun “he” when referring to Kye (who was born Kay-Kay). Allums, who is a junior, will continue to play on the women’s team. To comply with NCAA guidelines and retain his athletic scholarship, Allums is postponing hormone treatments until after his college basketball career is over.
A profile of Allums in Outsports describes his attempts to try on identities that ultimately didn’t fit the truth of who he experienced himself to be. In high school this meant affiliating as a lesbian, but over time this didn’t feel right. During his freshman year in college his mother sent him an angry text that read: “Who do you think you are, young lady?” All of a sudden, Allums’ awakening as a transgender male began to crystallize.
Allums’ story gets at topics and voices we’ve long been interested in: the spirituality of body image and the lived experience of being transgender. It also raises a flurry of questions about equity, fairness, and where transgender athletes fit into the larger landscape of competitive sports.
When Allums came out as transgender, his coach Mike Bozeman asked him if he thought God had made a mistake. As Allums remembers it, Bozeman followed up with words of support saying, “I’ve had your back through everything. Our relationship has grown from nothing to this, and now you think I’d just turn my back on you because you told me this? No. I love you and I’ll always be here for you.”
In the end, Allums concluded that God hadn’t made a mistake. “I was meant to be like this for a reason. Clearly my life is going to be different from anyone who was born a biological male, because of what I’ve been through. And I was meant to go through all of this.”
Bahrain Women Educate WNBA’s Mistie Bass
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
“They were used to being coached by men who tended to discourage them. But I saw nothing but tremendous potential, and I tried to nourish it. I made it clear that I was invested in the team’s improvement, and the players made it clear that they were serious as well. … Coaching them really drove home the point that if you give with no intent to receive, you will get so much more in return.”
Bass goes on to say how she transcended her own preconceptions about Islam through the real relationships she developed with her players. Her essay reminds me that sports can be a powerful way to forge bonds despite differences in language, culture, and religion.
We’ve been talking as a production staff about the meaning and purpose people find through sports — whether they’re athletes or fans or both. With the World Cup fast approaching, we’re wondering about the significance of sports in your own life. Is there a spiritual dimension to sports for you? What ideas do you have about how SOF could open up a conversation about this topic?
(photo: Mistie Bass/Chicago Sky)
Winning without the Juice
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ll admit it. I have a love-hate relationship with sports. I spent most of my high school and college years training. Wrestling ruined me; wrestling saved me. I have a soft spot for the power of sport forging relationships and understanding in ways that no other brokered therapy session ever can.
Brushing aside the Roger Clemens hearings, I happened upon this New York Times video report and charming slide show about Shamila Kohestani, once captain of the Afghanistan national women’s soccer team who is now attending a private high school in New Jersey on a soccer scholarship. She’s trying to catch up in her schooling to prepare for college. And she’s playing competitive basketball for the first time — an observant Muslim in long sleeves and leggings. What a great lesson in modesty and fortitude, compassion and graciousness for her teammates.
For me, this story evokes a particular memory of a former teammate, Dean Mielke. Affectionately called MilkDud, he was the only one of 13 ranked wrestlers who had a losing record at the time — zero wins and 18 losses, all of them by pin. For six continuous months, four hours per day, he got pummeled on — even by the lighter weights.
But he stayed. He didn’t quit. And eventually he endeared himself to everybody, ergo the nickname. Once, in a tight team dual, we needed him not to get pinned and give up six team points. “You’re a wraaaccckin’ machine,” we told him. “Don’t get pinned. Fight off your back no matter what.”
He spent almost six full minutes with his shoulders levitated centimeters from the mat with
his his mouth covered by his opponents’ armpit and chin in his ribs. At the final buzzer, he jumped up, arms in the air, and a huge grin on his face. He was defeated by 13 points, and he was proud of himself.
When I think back to that season and all the championships and victories, I only remember one thing: MilkDud’s victory. Yeah, I’m misty writing about it, and that’s why I tear up every time a team comes together in a movie or an athlete prevails during the Olympics.
Thanks, Dean, for the lesson. I’m a better father for it. Shamila’s teammates will be the better for knowing her too.