I am a natural athlete. After graduating from high school, I decided to provide genuine help for kids by becoming a professional sports manager, so I enrolled with a sports management training business, called Sports Management Worldwide (SMWW) based in Portland. It is an accredited online Sports Management school certiﬁed by the Oregon Department of Education. The president of the school, Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, welcomed me saying, “There is a need for women and especially women of color.” He focused his teaching and curriculum on helping students strategize and reach their career goals in the world of sports, which is just what I was hoping for.
My studies at SMWW led me to understand how important it is for young athletes to learn enough about the business that they can recognize and follow up on career options. The course opened my eyes to see things with a broader perspective and to feel a new sense of empowerment. I read of other people who had started their own teams. It occurred to me that I could partner with local businesses and nonproﬁts to start a team that would help young aspiring athletes to realize their personal best. I give young men an opportunity to work on their skills, get exposure, and see how far they can go with their sports. We are planning camps for inner-city and disadvantaged young athletes to help them enjoy playing together and developing skills that will help them with sports and with life.
My ﬁrst challenge was to learn how to run a team, so last year I landed a position as general manager for an Oakland team called the Golden Tigers that was part of the American Basketball Association
(ABA), which is characterized by a wide-open, ﬂashy style of oﬀensive play, typiﬁed by using a colorful red, white and blue ball, instead the drab orange colored NBA balls.
I began building Contra Costa County Delta Stars last year. At that time there were 15 teams. The number has doubled in the year since. I’m focused on growth, but my hashtag, #Build2Win, points to the fact that getting bigger isn’t the point; increasing competitive excellence is the goal we are working towards.
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. We moved to the Bay Area when I was nearly ﬁve years old. I started kindergarten at Bernadette Elementary School. My parents moved us to the projects in Bayview District and then to Hunter’s Point. My folks had an amicable divorce when I was 12, leaving Mom to raise us seven kids by herself. Our great grandmother passed away the next year and Mom moved us back to Seattle.
We had no surplus income, but there were free services, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, which gave me an opportunity to learn to play organized sports. I was able to make friends, get a sense of self, and just naturally fell into sports as a way of enjoying my time.
I attended James A. Garﬁeld High, which was a charter-like school for academically gifted students. The school was an alma mater for a number of A-list people. Karate master and super star Bruce Lee, for example, the famous musician and producer Quincy Jones, and Jimmy Hendrix, the greatest guitarist of all time. I attended school with Yasser Seirawan who was a junior chess master but went on to become an American chess grandmaster and four-time United States champion. Yasser introduced us to the game. I became a pretty good player and won some matches, but never beat him.
We were excited when Spencer Hayward, a professional basketball player and member of the Seattle Super Sonics visited the school. However, he turned out to be arrogant and unfriendly. Spencer really turned me oﬀ when I discovered that he used a stamp to sign autographs. I decided I didn’t like basketball if it attracted people like Spencer to the game.
When we moved to Seattle, ﬁnding myself in a new place was a culture shock and my ﬁrst year in junior high, thrown in with a bunch of strangers at ﬁrst proved to be a diﬃcult transition. I gradually began to make some new friends, however, and everything changed when March rolled around and there was some buzz about the opening of track season tryouts. I had never done any organized sports, but I thought I would try out. I have always been big, strong, and fast, and it turned out that I had some natural abilities. Before long I was a Garﬁeld High Bulldog competing in mid-range events including the 440, 220, and 100-yard dash, plus the 4 x 400 relay. I competed in the long jump. I wanted to play as many sports as I could ﬁt into my schedule, so I joined the swimming team.
In my junior year, two of us girls even went out for the boys’ football team. I had an inside connection because the coach, Al Roberts, also coached the girl’s basketball team. When we began working out with the team, I demonstrated that I could run faster and bench press more than some of the boys. They didn’t have a welcoming attitude and threatened to hurt us if we ever got on the ﬁeld with them. We never intended to actually play; we were just trying to make a statement about how strong, fast, and competitive girls can be.
When I was in the 11th grade, I made friends with a freshman named Joyce Walker. She played basketball and was a good athlete so I invited her to run track with me. She said she would run track with me if I played basketball with her. I had never played the game so Joyce said she would teach me. She and I would get together on Saturday mornings, and play until noon. By the time tryouts came by, I was able to make the team.
The shot-put was a track event that excelled at. At the time most people thought the shot-put wasn’t very glamourous. But then I started winning prizes on a consistent basis. People began paying attention and I blazed the path; girls who came after me earned prizes and scholarships. However, in 1977 I set the school record for the shot-put, which as far as I know is still standing.
One of my classmates, Brenda Smiley was competing in the same events as me. Both of us were tall women and, as it turned out, had similar interests. We were almost neighbors, both of us from large families. Our siblings became friends; the two families would gather together. Brenda is a beautiful person inside and out. She’s unselﬁsh and loving. Four decades later, she’s the same lovely person as she was when we ﬁrst met.
Brenda was a year behind me in school. During my senior year my Uncle Bill spent Thanksgiving with us. The two of us just seemed to click. He obviously appreciated his niece’s outgoing personality and athletic accomplishments, so he invited me to spend the summer months following graduation at his San Francisco home. When I told him about Brenda, he said to bring her along, as well.
Uncle Bill was the family’s success story. He was a longshoreman but obviously had other sources of income as the acknowledged head of a group of men who shared his interest in restoring ﬁne automobiles. He lived in a nice place and gave Brenda and me use of his master bedroom. We had a wonderful time during those months enjoying the sights and entertainments of the City. The highlight of each week was a weekend long poker game. It would begin on Friday evening and guys would be dealing and wheeling until Sunday night. Uncle Bill had multiple games going on throughout the house. During those hours the place was more betting parlor than home.
For Brenda and me it was like working in a nightclub. We had as much fun bringing the players whatever drinks, sandwiches, or Chinese food they wanted as the guys had gambling.
They always gave us nice tips for our friendly service. It just kept getting better because, win or lose, the more drinks we served, the more generous the tips became. A number of the players were family men just having a nice time. Many of them were Uncle Bill’s friends and members of his core group. I’m sure some of them were hustlers and shady characters. However, they all had money and each weekend would give some of it to Uncle Bill as a house percentage on each bet. Each weekend guys would leave either as winners or losers. However, Uncle Bill, Brenda, and I always ended up Sunday night with more money in our pockets than we had on Friday morning.
Everyone loved Uncle Bill. He was always “uncle” to my everybody and was particularly close to me. He paid a lot of attention to his appearance. He had manicures and pedicures. Asian women would come in and do his laundry. He loved to wear a lot of bling — some of it ﬁne jewelry. Uncle Bill was possessive of his personal jewelry and was really careful to not let anyone else wear his necklaces, rings, and bracelets. He carried his obsession over into advice for his beloved niece. “Be careful!” he would say. “Some of those guys are going to come on to you.”
Then he added, “You are a jewel; don’t throw your precious jewel away. Hang onto it carefully!” I obviously understood what he was trying to tell me.
As would be expected, some members of that testosterone-dosed bunch expected some special services from us but never got upset when we resisted. Some of them would take us to concerts, horseback riding, skeet shooting, shopping, and out to dinner. We would hang around with their wealthy friends and go to parties. Everyone showed us respect because they knew the “house rules.” Uncle Bill always seemed like a friendly bear to us, but he really was big with longshoreman muscles and an underlying toughness that conveyed the unspoken message that he would be mean if they ever gave Brenda or me any problems. We had a lot of fun that summer.
After the summer fun ended, I had to consider what I was going to do with my life. I became involved in the lending industry to pay the bills. However, wise men tell us to ﬁnd our purpose in life by following our passions. I became concerned with how many young athletes weren’t getting any help increasing their skills and experience. A number of shady street agents and hustlers were conning some of them out of their money while providing no real assistance in actually promoting their careers.
I put my experience with Uncle Bill’s poker buddies to use and developed good personal skills, which helps me to easily mix and mingle with the players, their parents, opponents, vendors — all kinds of people.
My husband André reminds me that I can’t be good for anybody if I’m not good for myself, so every week I try to put in 15 hours of training at Pittsburg’s In-Shape Gym keeping my strength and skills at the highest level possible. I do it for myself — life is easier in many ways when you are physically ﬁt. But I especially want to be an example and challenge to our young athletes to push themselves to succeed.
My friend Rev. Pam, tells us, “If you want something extraordinary, you have to do something extraordinary.” Contra Costa County Delta Stars is extraordinary. At least we are doing everything we can to push it in that direction.
Photos By Ron Essex