With the excited shouts of nearly 100 girls at play, the North End Recreational Center in Waterbury, Conn., has come alive.
It’s a Saturday morning in late April, still too bitter for comfortable outdoor pick-up games. But the noise and energy and joy emulating from the packed gym is tangible. For these girls, who participate in the center’s Hispanic Coalition program, it’s basketball season.
This particular morning is special. As part of its Sports 4 Life program, the Women’s Sports Foundation has brought in two Athlete Ambassadors, WSF President and three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor and WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon, to inspire the girls with their stories and enthusiasm for sport. Amid all of the excitement surrounding the champion athletes, however, one voice rings out from across the court.
“Go! Go! Faster! Good!”
Kim Clements, a former athlete who had grown up largely within the confines of this gym, is leading ladder drills, working with the girls on agility and footwork. Clements, who came through the North End Recreational Center before receiving a Division I scholarship to compete at the University of Albany, recognizes the importance of getting – and keeping – girls in sport. Which is why she’s here.
“I want to let girls know that, yeah we’re girls, but we’re ballers,” Clements said. “I want to make sure they have the same opportunities, the same access to knowledge and positive things that I did growing up. It’s our generation’s turn to step up and start teaching the youth, and I especially want to give back to young girls.”
Clements comes from a family of basketball players, but it took her own volition to get her start in the game. She always wanted to play, but instead stood on the sidelines as a cheerleader for her brother’s games.
“Being an athlete brings out something different in you. It molds you into a different human being.” – Kim Clements
One day, when she was around 5, her brother’s team was winning big. And Clements got her chance.
“My dad told me that I could come into the game,” she said. “He put me on the court and told them to pass to me. I made the layup and I’ve been playing basketball ever since. Once I got that basketball in my hands, I never looked back.”
Now, as a parent and a coach, Clements says she couldn’t imagine what her life would look like without basketball. Her high school team is the only team in the city ever to have won a state championship, and playing AAU allowed her travel opportunities that she may not have had otherwise. Basketball took her to Albany, where she received a free college education and played internationally in places like Australia and Costa Rica.
She works for the state of Connecticut now, but Clements’ passion lies in her community work. She is working to find her place in her community – coaching in the program at North End Recreational Center that gave her so much, volunteering for her kids’ teams, and, most importantly, making sure that more girls have the opportunities that she did.
“I don’t even know what my life would be without basketball. I really don’t,” she said. “But just being a woman in general, we couldn’t always do this. Even now, we don’t always have these opportunities. It’s so important to show these girls that, and make sure they get to play, because being an athlete brings out something different in you. It molds you into a different human being, and I’m grateful for that.”
The Hispanic Coalition program at the North End Recreational Center in Waterbury, Conn., is one of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2019 Sports 4 Life community partners and uses its Sports 4 Life funding to further its mission of creating a unified sense of community among the girls. Sports 4 Life was co-founded with WSF National Partner espnW in 2014. To learn more about its impact across the country, click here.