The Los Angeles Sparks provided an exclusive two-day experience for the Marlborough High School girls’ basketball team February 4th and 5th to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Marlborough is the oldest independent girls’ school in Southern California.
“Some of these girls are at our games all season, so why not bring it full circle and involve them in more activities around the community,” said Danita Johnson president and COO of the LA Sparks. “We have to be year round for these girls to be a support system for them.”
The varsity team celebrated their senior night with exciting player introductions and play-by-play featuring Hootie, the LA Sparks in-arena announcer, appearances from Sparky and the Sparks dance crews, a T-shirt toss and other giveaways.
The following day off the court, the girls participated in a panel to hear first-hand experiences from female sports industry leaders at the Athleta store in Los Angeles. Panelists included Johnson, Kimberly Chexnayder, NFL on-air personality, Natalie White, senior vice president of the LA Sparks, and Courtney Watson, the LA Sparks head athletic trainer.
“Creating an opportunity like this in an intimate environment helps young girls feel like they can connect and get a deeper dive into what we do beyond the court,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge inspiration for them.”
The panelists shared career advice and words of wisdom, coupled with a few personal anecdotes and stories of their own. Johnson says what the girls take away from the event is what matters most.
“Impact is extremely important to me. I want them to walk away feeling better about themselves, like they’ve learned something,” Johnson said.
White wanted to ensure that the panelists are allies for both the young athletes and their parents.
“What you’re going to hear here tonight is something you can use in the future,” White said.
All of the panelists shared their enthusiasm each of them has regarding the role they play as women in the male-dominated industry. Each woman found a new sense of purpose working as a female in the media, on the court or off the court.
Chexnayder shared struggles she faced as a young, black woman in sports, but she emphasized the importance of making an impact early and ensuring she built a reliable, memorable reputation.
“You need to be willing to bet on yourself,” Chexnayder said. “Find your champion, find people you can look up to that are doing what you want to be doing.”
Johnson, who says exposure is vital to shaping a successful young woman, echoed this sentiment.
Once the panelists opened the discussion up for questions, a player’s father asked for advice on how to best support the young women in his life.
Johnson said showing up and exposure is key. She encouraged parents to provide their children with as many real-world examples as they can to inspire their children.
The panelists shared some of their own real-world favorites, dropping names like 16-year WNBA forward Tina Thompson and Serena Williams.
“As women, we try to keep pushing forward. We cannot only be equal, but we can be a step ahead,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained this step ahead is attainable by thorough preparation and using your voice. White reflected a similar idea.
“The time of sitting and waiting to be called on is over,” White said.