A New Experience

2 February 2019

I walk into the gym; all eyes turn to me. I am the only white person in the inner city community center. I feel like an outcast. The man at the door takes my bag as I walk through the metal detector. He gives me a hand shake, like those I had only seen in the movies- complicated with no pattern that seems to go on for an eternity. I freeze, stunned, does he not see who I am? How can he honestly think I am capable? I panic. To my rescue, familiar Hmong twins call me over and I join my basketball team, laughing at my inexperience.

At the beginning of the season, I had the chance to join a local club, with the same girls I had been playing with my whole life, but instead, I took a risk. I live in a rural Wisconsin town, where the people act, talk, and look the same as me. I began high school with what was supposed to be a “huge change.” However, I was still repeating the same life, with what seemed the same facts and same faces. I thought to myself, this cannot be what the world consists of!
Stepping out of my familiar community, and trying out for an inner city team, I became exposed to a completely new culture. No longer playing a slow set up and run offence, we would scrimmage, practicing an aggressive style of urban play based on confidence and attitude. I had begun with the hope of improving my game, but in turn, I received the opportunity to expand my understanding of cultures and diversity. I was the minority.
There was a hierarchy to the team, everyone with their own place on the court. Being new, I was intimidated; no one seemed to care what I was doing or bother to learn my name. I was at the bottom of an unfamiliar group filled with tattoos, and bad parental relationships. Our only motivation for interaction was basketball. For these girls, basketball was their future and for most of them, their only way to college. Over time, we earned respect from each other and subsequently learned to work together to improve our weaknesses.
We learned to look past our appearances, and even our parents, to mature as a unit. On late nights at a $40 motel, we would stay up late describing our schools, families, and friends; comparing our lives that suddenly did not seem as different as they had once appeared. We were no longer a group of blacks, whites, and Asians, but a single team of friends trying to make it through high school with the chance of a future. We work together to succeed and never stop fighting until the buzzer sounds. We feed off each other’s energy, becoming familiar with the moods, attitude, and character of each individual. This played an important part in overcoming obstacles, adversity and a 6’ 7” post in our quest for reaching the Final Four of the Junior Olympics.
While off the court, they told me of divorced parents, violence at school, and teenage pregnancy. One teammate brought her one year-old child to practice because she could not afford child care. Some confided in me, wondering how they should deal with confused parents, who were hardly parenting at all. We were all there for each other, each one bringing something new from our varying upbringings. Eventually, I gained enough respect to become team captain. I was now the one to look up to, having grown from a scared, intimidated outcast, to a leader.
I learned more than basketball on the court in those few short seasons, and more than relationships grew in our post game team discussions. I learned a new culture, where a simple handshake is the symbol of respect and admiration. I learned more about myself from the tattooed, rebellious, African-American teenage mother than I had from a lifetime spent looking at a mirror of white adolescence. Two years of playing with this team has given me an understanding of what it truly meant to be diverse.

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