By Moni Jackson, University of Puget Sound
I’ve always been athletic, as long as I can remember sports came easily. At the age of four, my parents started me in gymnastics; by age five I was participating in gymnastics, soccer, basketball and softball. By age six, I had already made my first athletic decision, I preferred sports that consisted of a ball, and so gymnastics was left behind. By fourth grade, I joined my first select basketball team. At that time there wasn’t a fourth grade team I could find, so I played on a sixth grade team. I got to play quite a bit for someone so much younger than the rest of the team, but I rode the bench a lot and my uniform looked like a dress. I learned many things that year, one being I could keep up with girls twice my age, but also that I liked the game way too much to sit on a bench and watch it. So the next year we found more players and put together a fifth grade team.
By seventh grade I had started playing select softball in addition to basketball, so in order to keep my parents’ sanity, I made my next big athletic decision and quit soccer. This would be the year I started to notice everyone was outgrowing me. Nowadays athletes are pressured as soon as middle school to start focusing on a single sport, I wasn’t ready for that. Coaches, however, tried to make my decisions for me. In eighth grade, I got turned down for a basketball team without even trying out. At this time I think I might have stood an even five foot, and when I showed up at the tryout, he just said, “we are looking for a taller point guard, I just don’t think you’re gonna fit our needs.” My parents didn’t argue. They were so upset at his comments they agreed even if he had changed his mind after the tryout that they would rather me not play for that kind of coach.
As I started my freshman year of high school, I also started to get more “suggestions.” Once on a trip to California for softball, I was standing on the plane in front of my seat, I wasn’t leaning or slouching and I cleared the luggage compartment by a good half inch. My team had a good laugh, but my softball coach told me I would be “dumb to pursue basketball because I was just too short.” He followed that up with “and you’re too good of a softball player,” so I know he meant well, but when someone talks about my size, it always stung. Later, a parent of a friend said, “No matter how good you are, your size will keep you from playing any sort of college ball.” I didn’t care. No matter what anyone said or how they pushed me towards softball, I loved basketball. I loved having the ball in my hands and most of all, I loved the way the game made me feel. I tried out for varsity basketball at my local high school and made the team. Not only did this 5’3″, 112-pound “iddy biddy little girl” as I was once called by a referee (who apparently thought he was being funny), make the team, I started from the very first game and all through the season. As any athlete of a team sport knows, being part of the starting lineup is huge. But being a freshman who is starting before older girls was quite an honor. I also tried out for and made the varsity softball team. I continued to play both sports on my select teams and kept up with my shooting and ball handling training for basketball. I hardly missed a day of school and kept my grades up. I never quit, I never gave in and I never listened to any naysayers. I was the owner of my destiny.
I ended up playing, and starting four years of varsity basketball and softball, and I received many offers to play at the college level, in all divisions, in both sports. My love of basketball has taken me on to the next level and I’ve found a perfect fit for me: an academically sound school close to home, where I wanted to be, and on a team I thought I could contribute to. I’m proud to say I play basketball at the University of Puget Sound. For all those who didn’t believe I could do it, in my first season, I averaged 12.9 points, 3 steals, 2 assists and 31.1 minutes per game. I am even more grateful to be able to say that this summer I was honored to have been asked to go to Brazil and play with team USA at the D3 level. So when people say size does matter, I say, “yes, it most certainly does. However, it’s the size of your heart and not your height.”