Joy Dennis – USC Beach Volleyball

“It’s actually kind of a funny story how I got into beach volleyball. I was 9 and I went to an AVP even though I didn’t want to go.  I was playing indoor volleyball at the time and I was like ‘I like indoor. There are people that look like me so that’s where I belong.’ I went and was watching this one match with Antoinette Davis and Jenny Johsnon Jordan. I was completely fascinated because they were two black players playing together.”

“When I was watching, Jenny Johnson Jordan came up to me and was like, ‘Hey how are you? Do you want to shag balls or sit on our bench?’ I was completely starstruck as a 9-year-old. She was so kind and she looked just like me. She was playing the sport and whooping everyone and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like Jenny Johnson Jordan.’ Not only was she an incredible athlete, she was such a kind person and most importantly I’d never seen anyone Black who played beach volleyball before. She gave me footsteps to follow.”

“Beach volleyball is played in predominantly white neighborhoods so not a lot of Black athletes get involved in the sport. No one ever put me down in huge ways, but there were a lot of comments like ‘Of course you can jump high you’re black’ or ‘Why didn’t you play basketball or run track?’ I think those types of comments go away when we educate one another. I’ve been able to realize that ‘Hey, you may not know why this isn’t okay to say,  so rather than get upset with you I can try to help you understand.’”

“When I got to USC, everyone was expecting me to be this huge star and I felt like I disappointed a lot of people. I disappointed myself. I thought, ‘Was I overhyped? Was I not doing enough? I got in my own head and thought ‘I don’t understand why people are saying these things about me when I’m trying my best.’ People can be mean in beach volleyball and make comments about your body type, or the way you carry yourself off the court, and hearing that can be hard. I had to learn how to just kind of block it out and trust that I knew myself better than they did.”

“With all the issues going on recently I felt like I needed to fix it all. I got stressed out and realized that I had to take it slow and do what I could to address the problem. My team and the USC staff have been so great. We’ve decided that we’re going to get things done in house. If all 20 or 30 of us make changes, then take them to our personal groups of friends, then those changes are going to spread. If I can get a couple of people to be good allies and to stand up for someone else in a party when they hear something disrespectful, then we’ve driven change.  It may be a baby step, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

“The support has been amazing and it hasn’t just been within the team. It’s come from girls at UCLA, girls at Stanford. People are reaching out because I am one of the few Black people in this community. My team has always been there for me. I could scroll through the group message and click on a random number and be like ‘Hey I’m having a tough day,’ and know that person would drop everything to come help me. It’s an incredible feeling.”

“You should have seen me the day that they announced that the season was done and that I probably wouldn’t get a fifth year of eligibility. I was a wreck. I was crying on the phone to my mom and saying, ‘It’s over, it’s over.’ Coming back, I think I have the mentality that it’s probably the end of my volleyball career. This is my last chance. I ask myself: ‘How do I want to be remembered? How do I want to feel about myself when I’m done?’ If I put everything on the table, then I’ll be proud.”

“To anyone chasing a dream in sports, know that you can do it. Originally, I didn’t think I could do it. I was nine, but I was influenced by society to think that I didn’t fit. If anyone thinks like that, I want to smack it out of your mind so fast because you can do it and you will be great. Don’t let anything stop you just because you think that you don’t belong in a sport. You do belong. So, simply put, you can do it. I believe you can do it. I’m 100% certain that you can do it.”

Ian Troost – Pittsburgh Football

“I grew up in New Hampshire which is 95% white. There are a lot of affluent people and tons of wealth in the area. With all that money, they may be ignorant to a lot of what still happens in the United States because we live in a perfect little bubble here.”

“I was essentially taught the basics. The Civil War ended in 1865, which was good. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. The Confederates were bad. Don’t use racial slurs, don’t burn a cross, and you’re not racist. Going to Utah, I was still ignorant to all of this. My sophomore year I ended up being the president of all the clubs on campus, and it was then that I started to become more privy to minority groups.” 

“I started to figure things out when I moved in with two Black student-athletes at Pitt, Dontez Ford and Reggie Mitchell. They played on the football team while I was the mascot there. Spending time with them and seeing microaggressions and racism act against them in person was eye-opening. I listened to their experiences of growing up Black and the racist experiences they suffered from.”

“Dontez, Reggie, and I had talked about kneeling the year before when they were on the team. Our life skills program talked to us and said if anyone wanted to protest they should make sure that the reason they wanted to protest was true and valid. I remember thinking, ‘Man, imagine how powerful it would be if I could be an ally and kneel with them.’  I thought I was going to have a few Black teammates join me. In hindsight, they were actually dissuaded from kneeling.”

“Afterwards, I definitely had some teammates stop talking to me. I ended up having Gatorade poured on my shoulder pads, cherry juice poured on my sweat pants one day. I ended up having pretty crazy talks with the AD and the deputy athletic director, who raised their voices at me and implied that I was costing the school money. I think people viewed me more as a dumb kid who wanted attention, whereas they viewed Black athletes doing it as a problem and as animals and ungrateful. And I think there’s privilege in that. That’s why it’s super important that we become allies and use our voices so that we can amplify Black voices and experiences.”

“Know that you can use your voice, but also be introspective and hold your community accountable. It’s okay to separate the good a community has done from the bad and hold the bad side accountable. It’s okay for me to say I’m from New Hampshire and it’s the greatest state in the country, but I know that there’s also a big racist history in New Hampshire, and just because we were a state in the Union and one of the first states and free slaves would come here, that doesn’t mean make us immune from the problem at all.”

“For athletes, just listen to your black teammates and their experiences and believe them. Try to be empathetic and understand that it’s not always about you. This isn’t the Olympics of difficulty. We’re not trying to say that your hard isn’t hard. But we have an overarching issue that Black people and people of color deal with subconsciously every day that is the stress and anxiety that must come with being a Black human being. And that’s not something we can all understand, but for us to recognize that will be a big step in the right direction. Ultimately when we’re truly all equal, that’s when we’re all free. None of us are free if we’re not all free.”

“Finally, be a lifelong learner. I could read every book and there would still be more to learn. Just because I’m having a conversation and you’re highlighting my story doesn’t make me this all-knowing race expert, I’m far from it. I am still learning every day and I still make mistakes everyday, and I think that’s really the first step to being able to hold ourselves and each other accountable. We can recognize something may have been a mistake, but still encourage ourselves to do better together.”

Jeshua Anderson – Washington State/Team USA Track and Field

“I was an only child but my dad had 9 siblings so I got beat up on all the time by my older cousins. I had a competitive mindset so I hated losing. My Dad would tell me, ‘If you want to play on a team you’ve gotta work hard. I’m not going to talk to a coach and convince him to play you, you’ve gotta earn it.’ I always wanted to work harder than my peers.”

“My first love was football so I didn’t really do much outside of that. My freshman year our head coach forced us to run track. I figured I’d just run track to stay in shape and pass time before football season. I was a late bloomer, so I honestly didn’t even see that I had a gift until late junior year. That’s when I really started taking my talent to the next level.”

“I remember breaking the national high school record in the 300 hurdles so I signed up to go to junior nationals in order to make the Pan-Am junior team. On my way there I missed my flight. I really wanted to make a USA team so I think that gave me a lot of hunger to make the next one. Soon after I did qualify for the World Junior Championships. We flew out to Poland which was such an amazing experience. To travel the world at 18, I was like ‘I want to keep doing this.’ After making that first one I was just craving to make more.”

“I remember breaking the national high school record and then coming to college and just thinking, ‘Man I just don’t want to become someone that gets forgotten.’ I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to me. When I got to college it was easy. My first race I lost because I was timid but from there on I locked in. I can probably count on one hand how many times I lost in college. It was just crazy. I never felt I had a target on my back, I just felt like I wanted to do even better than I had before.”

“I think it was a little bit of disappointment to be so close to making the Olympics. In 2016 I felt like I had a really good season and it didn’t pan out how I wanted to. That was my third olympic trials. The one I should have made was in 2012. I opened up the year as the world leader in March. I was running extremely fast and was coming off of winning USA’s and making the World championship team. I pulled my hamstring a week before trials, and that ended my opportunity to make the team. I had my family out there to watch me run and it just didn’t happen the way I’d like it to. The time I ran in March would have gotten me to the podium. I would have been one of the three to make the Olympics that year, so I think that one hurt the most because I knew I couldn’t do anything about it. “

“To be so close was tough. At the end of the day there are eight people in the race and you gotta do it that day. Everyone is praying for the same outcome and you have to live with what comes. After the year was up, emotionally I was drained. Making the Olympics in track is like having an NBA draft every 4 years, but only three people get drafted. It’s super hard to make the USA team because everyone in that race is probably top 15 in the world. At the time, I was disappointed but looking back at it I know I put everything into that season and had a lot to be proud of.”

“I think sports have done a lot to put people in the same arena regardless of differences. It’s done a lot in terms of pushing the envelope to address racism which is super cool to see. A lot of people had to pave the way for me to be able to travel the world and run in different countries and run against different ethnicities. That being said, I think everybody needs to be educated on the regular. Racism has been happening a long time. A lot of people just haven’t seen it on display, but it happens all the time. I will continue to pray about it. It’s something only God knows but I’m looking forward to some change. I’m sure it’ll be slow, but a slow change is better than no change.”

“Something I stress to my athletes a lot is to enjoy every moment. I didn’t always take advantage of doing that. I was so caught up in being the best that I could and always focusing on the next that I never really got to enjoy my success. Enjoy looking back on all you’ve accomplished and enjoy your journey.   Be coachable, have an open mind, and work hard. At the end of the day, that’s the best advice I could give.”

Jaide Hinds-Clarke – Richmond Basketball

“I thought I’d share my coming out journey. Here it is: When I was ready, I knew I would be ready. I knew for a long time, and could not bear holding the secret anymore. I was ready to share my authentic self with others. I started with my Mom, then my Dad. With my Mom, I got a good reaction but with my Dad, it took some time. Though the initial reaction was not the best, over time he learned that how I identified did not take away from who I am or who I was going to be. My Dad was more concerned with how other people were going to react and treat me, being the protective Dad that he is. Being supported by my parents, helped me to feel even more comfortable in my skin. This allowed me to continue my journey – telling friends, teammates, and coaches. It felt like weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Yet, I understand and acknowledge that not all members of the LGBTQ have this same experience. Every person’s experience is different and I stand in solidarity with my LGBTQ peers who have faced rejection and oppositon in their journey.

“Every coming out journey varies, and it is solely at your discretion when, who, and how to come out. It takes strength to be transparent about yourself when you know you may be facing rejection and opposition. Coming out is a step of vulnerability.  I felt a sense of pride when I came out because it is a beautiful thing to feel confident in your skin.I hope and pray that one day, soon, people will not be judged for being who they are. Progress has been made, but there is so much more to do.”

“As a Black woman and LGBTQ athlete I want people to know that social change, and the fight for just is and always should be intersectional. I cannot talk to anyone about my identities separately…they intersect. I am a black queer woman, and in this society, those identities are undervalued. Not to me. I have come to love and appreciate my identities, despite what anyone has to say. I have found power in them. I want people to know that I am privileged, as an out person — and I don’t take the privilege lightly. As a black LGBTQ female athlete, I had a platform. In my four years, I began to understand how to use that platform. In my journey, it was important to me to understand and recognize that there are several reasons not all members of the LGBTQ community are able to live their truth. I vowed to continue to walk in my power and use my privilege to fight for those who are not yet able to walk in theirs. This decision confirms that I can continue to bring my authentic self to every table and will be protected by law. It is a reminder that the tireless work of LGBTQ folks and their allies continues to be important, and we are being heard.”

“Basketball has meant so much to me and I am not sure where I would be without it. I had an interesting journey as a child. I started playing later than most of my peers, and I did a lot of doubting myself. I have been blessed to have had so many great coaches, who were so important to my growth and development. In middle school, Coach Bridget encouraged me to keep working hard and not give up. Coach Hodge helped me pick my basketball number, number 1 — which I have worn for the past 10 years. Coach Reggie, led my middle school rec team to championships — which we won! Coach Collis led my team to league and section championships. My AAU coaches, Coach Derek and Coach Reilly pushed me to work hard and lead by example. Coach Shafer and his staff recruited me and nurtured my potential. Coach Rousell and his staff continued to push me to be a better player, leader, and were important in my final season as a Richmond Spider.  Basketball has taught me the importance of relationships and friendships. My teammates are some of my best friends. Basketball has taught me discipline, strength, perseverance — and the will to win. I am truly indebted to the sport itself, and am extremely grateful for every one who poured into me throughout the years.”

I would tell my younger self  not to doubt my abilities, and remind myself to never lose sight of my dreams and goals. Each day is a day to get better, whether it is personal development, sports related, or just learning something new. Each day is an opportunity to learn something new and improve and that should never be taken for granted. I would also tell my younger self to be authentic to how I feel, and not let anyone dim my light.”

“My hope is that athletes, coaches, administrators, conferences, and the world of sport will continue to support and by-in to the concept of sports as a catalyst for social change. Athletes are LEADERS. We have such a huge platform, and so much potential to be leaders that it comes to equality. There is a need for equality in sports, and beyond and the culture of athletics should lead the charge. My hope is that one day, athletes of all identities, backgrounds, and cultures will feel supported, uplifted and empowered to use their voices. My hope is that equity in athletics will be reached all the way from student-athletes, to coaches, to administrators.”

How do you think athletes can best promote change in the sports world and beyond? 

“Listen. Educate. Actively support. Stand up.”

“I think it is so important that student-athletes recognize their power and the platform that they have. Like I said, we are leaders and oftentimes people look to us first. On an individual level, I think it is important to recognize and be aware of social issues, within athletics, nationally, and globally. Individually, I think it is important that each student athlete serves as a powerful ally to teammates, and collectively create a culture that they can be proud of. Stand up for your teammates, you communities — and advocate for equality at all times. Sometimes it is tiring, but in the long run you may be a part of creating change and having an impact that will drastically change the experiences of those after you.”

Markel Leonard – Lewis and Clark Basketball

“I grew up in Richmond, California. It’s known for a lot of violence and poverty and a lot of things that kids shouldn’t have seen growing up, but I was blessed to be sheltered with a great family. I had a lot of great role models to grow up around. I was raised by a single mother with grandparents. She worked two to three jobs just to make sure my sister and I were ok.”

“I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for growing up in Richmond because it taught me a lot of things that I apply on the day-to-day. First, this is not what I want to be. I knew that I didn’t want to be just another kid from Richmond that fell through the cracks. I just didn’t know how I was going to escape.”

“I was blessed with an athletic ability. Basketball, baseball, and football were my escapes or getaways from what was going on outside. It was my way of staying out of trouble. “I stayed on the right path because I had a great family that told me: “You can dare to be different. You can be intelligent. You can like school and sports at the same time. It’s ok to be a Black kid that’s smart and gets a 3.8 and also gets 20 points a game. It clicked early on in my life that this was going to be my way out: getting good grades and being good on the court.”

“I always bet on myself and I always dared to be different. My story is about perseverance and always being more than just an athlete. I thought about quitting, but I realized that I didn’t come this far to quit. The first two years of high school I came off the bench and played hardly any minutes. Those first two years taught me that you have to work hard, and I had to keep thinking about my mom. She didn’t raise a quitter. I didn’t come this far to quit on my dream.”

“The rest of my life has always been about how I can come in and contribute to the collective and not myself. That’s how I was raised: being selfless and being a servant-leader. I been raised by servant-leaders. Lebron James and Maverick Carter, they say, ‘more than an athlete,’ and I started living by that after I was done playing. I wanted to be a professional basketball player and I had a chance. My coach told me a couple small leagues (in England) wanted me to come hoop. I had to weigh the pros and cons.”

“What really changed my mind was a couple of kids I grew up with that are incarcerated. I realized that me going to play basketball overseas is not going to have an impact on this world for kids that look like me, for kids that come from where I come from, worldwide. I want to have an everlasting impact, so I had to start thinking how I could do that because that’s how I want to be remembered when I’m far gone from this planet. I want to be remembered as a visionary, as someone who opened the door for kids from the inner-city to step through, not just another basketball player.”

“I would hear the police sirens, I would see the stuff going on on the corner, I would see all the guys hanging out at the corner, I would see the fights, but none of that stuff appealed to me. My family really saved my life. Now it’s about me being that pioneer for them and showing them this is what you can do. A lot of times, kids from the inner city think that a lot of things aren’t for them because they don’t see people that look like them on TV. They don’t think they can be a doctor or lawyer or COO or CEO of a sports team. They don’t think they can be those things because they don’t see it. So, for me, I’m gonna be that so those kids can see Markel Leonard from Richmond, California, an African American male can do it, I can do it too.”

“Athletes and entertainers can really have an effect of change by partnering with their mayors by giving their resources and money to the city and donating their money and resources to programs and helping out with the issues that the mayors of the poverty-ridden cities know about. Some examples would be like donating money to after school programs so kids have meals to eat, donating to college funds for kids who are smart enough, but don’t have the means to go to college, etc. I think that would spring a real change in poverty-ridden cities.”

Olufolasade “Sade” Adamolekun – USC Soccer

“At age five, my parents had both my older brother and I participate in many sports (basketball, tennis, soccer) with the YMCA. My brother being 2 ½ years older than I, allowed me to tag-a-long with my parents to his games. While he was playing his games, I would play world cup with my brother’s teammates younger siblings who all happened to be boys. Little did I know that this additional playing time would accelerate my development and passion for the game of soccer.” 

“As a result of my accelerated development, since the age of seven, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play up 2-4 years which continued to help me to improve technically and tactically. At the age of 12, I earned the opportunity to be called up to the US U-17 national team camp. During the ages from 12 to 14, I was consistently called into national team camps for US U-17, U-15, and U-14 levels and was the youngest but the top goal scorer and assister with my club teams. At the age of 14, my parents and coaches began to notice a difference in my performance. I was still doing club trainings and 1-on-1 trainings with my brother and putting in the same, if not, more effort in my trainings. But despite my efforts, it became noticeably more difficult to keep up with my teammates at all levels. My coaches began to question my commitment to the game, and I became more confused and unable to understand what was happening. After a year of inconsistent performances at the club and national team levels, my parents requested some medical testing to be done. I was diagnosed with low iron levels which resulted in my body’s inability to receive enough oxygen into the bloodstream. This had a direct impact on my endurance on the field. My doctor was surprised at my low level of iron and that I was even able to play without passing out in a game, and described it as playing a 90 minute game at the top of Mount Everest where you would be unable to get enough oxygen to sustain your body. I was now 15, and had to receive two iron infusions and had adjust my diet and vitamin intake to consistently get my iron to normal levels. My coaches and teammates had lost confidence in my abilities, but finally getting this diagnosis helped everyone understand that my performance wasn’t about me not wanting to put in the effort, but was due to a physical ailment and totally out of my control.”

“Having gone through the experience of working hard, gaining success, and earning the confidence of my parents, coaches, and teammates at an early age; and then in a blink of an eye having my performance unexplainably drop off, resulting in everyone doubting me and my commitment was a transformational experience for me.”

“I learned three important life lessons through this experience: (1) with God’s grace, I am ultimately in control of my own destiny and my confidence must originate from within and I must no longer depend on others to validate my capabilities and/or my future potential. (2) I needed to take ownership of and advocate for myself as a female athlete. (3) I now know the individuals I can depend on unconditionally, not just when things are going well, but most importantly during the difficult times.”

“Today, three years later, I am even more focused and determined to achieve my goals athletically and academically. Since this experience, I’ve had the following achievements: (1) I’ve earned a scholarship to play NCAA Division 1 soccer at the University of Southern California; (2) received a call up to the u-18 US national team; (3) represented the u-17 and u-20 Jamaican national team at world cup qualification levels, (4) at the age of 18 was a member of the historic Jamaica Senior Women’s national team “Reggae Girlz” that became the first Caribbean nation to participate in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, (5) represented the Senior “Reggae Girlz” at the Pan-American games, (6) represented the Senior ”Reggae Girlz” at the 2020 Olympic Qualifiers, (7) and made the PAC-12 All-Freshman team.”

“As a black woman and athlete, my journey has been fraught with successes, but also many challenges. But from my perspective, I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of these cumulative experiences. I now live each day with the realization that (a) I am the architect of my future and not a victim of my past, (b) my mentality determines my reality, (c) my attitude determines my altitude.”

“I recently had the idea to form an association to help effect positive change and break down barriers to help advocate for social justice. Along with my fellow founding members, I’m proud to share that on June 17th, 2020 we were able to launch the United Black Student-Athlete Association at the University of Southern California to provide a platform in partnership with the administration to help bridge any gaps in racial equality in our school’s academic and athletic programs.”

Trey Harris – Indiana Track and Field

“Chicago is my second home, but that’s another story. I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana. My high school was pretty split but my neighborhood was predominantly Black. I played a lot of AAU basketball growing up. I learned a lot from my teammates and I still keep in contact with them, but some of those people didn’t live in the same neighborhood as me. My friends weren’t necessarily their friends and there’s nothing wrong with that. It made me realize that I can connect with and get along with anyone I want to. We can all come to a common ground in a sport that we love.”

“On June 22, 2013 my cousin Braxton was shot and killed. I had turned 16 the week before. I don’t really talk about stuff like this, but growing up I saw people shot and killed. I was always just told by my mom and dad to ‘stick it through.’ I think it made me realize that we don’t live in a fantasy world. I couldn’t bring them back, but I needed to do the things they were telling me to do before they passed.”

“I had great friends that always looked out for me. Even though we may have had different paths, they helped me go to practice and made sure my grades were good. They made sure I didn’t stay out too late and that I was around the right crowd. What they did made me into the man I am now. I call them my family because I wouldn’t be here today without them.”

“My dad was one of the greatest basketball players to come out of the west side of Chicago. The pressure was already on me and the rest of my family because basketball was our thing. I did track in high school because it was a good way to stay in shape, but I always knew I was good enough to play DI basketball. God had a different plan. One day my track coach suggested I just focus on track. No AAU, no pick-up. Nothing. He told me, ‘I promise you I will get you were you need to be.’ It was a tough pill to swallow but I went on to break our high school record and got a scholarship to Indiana University.”

“My grandparents died back to back during my sophomore year in college. My grandma passed away September 5th and my grandpa passed away September 6th. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to handle my emotions. I didn’t trust anyone because I felt alone. I felt a lot of anger and emptiness. The only thing I could trust was the grind. That was really all I had at IU. So I took it out during my workouts and made sure I did every little detail. It helped me sleep better at night. Next thing you know, 5 months later I became a champion. Where I’m from that’s like winning a Grammy.”

“I got involved in M.O.V.E. (Men of Valor Excelling) in 2014. I was the new kid on the block and they took me in because I couldn’t relate to anyone else. I was attending a predominantly white institution and just thinking, ‘Who can I talk to about this?’ Who are my brothers I can lean on? Over the years I was blessed with the opportunity to become VP and then President. We empower Black, student-athletes to be leaders in our community and give each other support. That’s what motivates me and gives me that fire because I live through, not only, God but others. I see others’ potential and say let’s do it.”

“I know there are other athletes like me. I know they’ve been through trauma. I know it’s so hard to remain humble and act like nothing happened. I know they’re out there, so my job is to help them out no matter what it is because I don’t want anyone to deal with the situation that I’ve dealt with. I have to at least say something about my story to hopefully impact someone that needs it.”

“I’d love to see a change in our education system. If you want to stop racism it starts with the school system. We have to educate the youth because they will be the change in the future. If you can mold them at an early age… that’s powerful. We need to make sure we put our foot in the ground and stay with it, because we’re making history. It’s our job to set others up for a better lifestyle so they won’t have to deal with this.”

“I love people. I love the impact I have on people and the impact people have on me. It doesn’t matter if we have different views. We probably have differences, but I can learn from you. I love all people no matter what race you are, what color you are, or what type of eyes you have. We’re all part of a bigger family.”

Casser Middleton – Benedict Track and Field

“Track and field has meant everything to me. It gave me the opportunity to go to school for free. Track and field has taught me that your mindset is the majority of your performance.”

“I had to overcome a lot of adversity to get where I am! I went to two schools before I found a legit place to call home. In my first semester at Benedict,  my grandmother passed away. I did not want to go back to school but I knew she wouldn’t want that plus people didn’t think I’d even make it this far so I just used it as fuel.”

“Track and field has connected me with so many people from all over. I would’ve never imagined being teammates with someone from France, Jamaica, Ethiopia and many more places. I’ve made a lot of great friends that I know I can depend on later down the road.”

“I just pray to God that we can all be viewed the same. Sometimes it feels like once we take off our jerseys,  we become a target and it honestly shouldn’t be like that. Once we’re all viewed the same,  justice will be served.”

Riley Smith – Senior USC Tennis

“Growing up I always dreamed of going to USC. They have always been the Mecca of college tennis and there is no hiding that expectation. My dad was the coach at USC and before I had gotten there had led them to 5 NCAA team titles. Playing for my dad was something so special and I was lucky to experience it.”

“I had some incredible moments being on the same team as my brother at USC and even starting a couple doubles matches throughout my junior year with him. We were able to share all the difficulties that came with being the coach’s son and that brought us even closer. Having someone that knew exactly what I was going through pushed me through the moments of doubt and frustration.”

“My senior year we had a new coach and the group of guys on our team were hungry for a national championship. After suffering our first loss of the season on the road it really lit a fire in all of us and we headed into the National Indoors with something to prove. With many of our guys sick and injured we played one leg down throughout the tournament, but we managed to survive the storm and win USC’s 4th National Indoor Title.”

 “We were just beginning conference play and our team was finally healthy again. We were number 1 in the country and about to face UCLA, something everybody was looking forward to. It is a terrible feeling having such unfinished business being on a team that worked so hard to be in this situation that we had earned over my four years at school. College tennis taught me how to compete and brought bonds with people into my life that will never be broken.”

“Looking back on it I wouldn’t do things  much differently and that is something I’ll always be proud of. I made the most of my opportunities at USC and didn’t leave anything on the table. Everyone has an excuse at the end of the day and you can’t let that define you. Nobody cares, work harder.”

Maela Lazaro – Senior Oregon State Gymnastics

“Maela is my teammate and my first roommate in college. We were part of a class of seniors that went through a lot of hardships in our four years at Oregon State that not many know about. We lost a friend/teammate to suicide our freshmen year and felt like we didn’t fit in. Sophomore year, we fought to make lineups despite injuries and lack of competition experience. We grieved as staff members stepped away after losing loved ones, and this year our head coach was unable to be with us due to health concerns”

 “Our whole journey has been a battle, a constant fight. We are so strong because of it. But what’s amazing about Maela is how much grace she has shown throughout her journey. She came out of a small gym in Hawaii, that had just enough room for one of each piece of equipment. She managed to compete well in level 10 for three years before earning a walk-on spot at Oregon State. 

“As a walk on,  she didn’t compete her first year, but traveled in order to move mats and boards for the team. Sophomore year she competed using her debut routine and earned a 9.9 winning the title. She had a near perfect year on the event, but fell at the regional competition. Determined to perform for her team, she came back the next year and competed well in a lineup that had trouble finding a rhythm.”

“The team made nationals and a week before the competition she went through a tough breakup after a three year relationship. She never let it into the gym. She handled it with such grace and on the first day of nationals she performed the most beautiful routine receiving All-American honors on the event.”

“Senior year she struggled with injury and pressure to perform a new routine without the presence of our head coach to help her. No matter how much she struggled internally, she was always supporting her teammates and acting as a light for the whole team.”

 “Maela was about to perform a new routine at senior night, but senior night didn’t happen due to COVID-19 cancellations. She deserved a storybook ending to her Cinderella story, but she didn’t get it. No matter how much pain she felt for not getting those last moments of her career, she had nothing but gratitude and grace to preach. Maela is the definition of grace, resilience, and strength; and I’m proud to call her my teammate.”

Steven Schoch – Senior University of Virginia Baseball

“Ever since I can remember my baseball journey has been an uphill battle. When I was 7 years old, I got cut from my local travel team. I remember my Dad sitting me down and telling me I could cry, but all I wanted to do was go to the field and get better to be more prepared for next year’s try outs. I didn’t make it again the next year, however I did make a less competitive travel team.”

“When I was eight, I started getting interested in college baseball and went to my first UVa game. I remember sitting in the stands, thinking at that specific moment that I wanted to be a part of UVa baseball. I loved everything about the program, and I remember immediately going out to buy a UVa baseball hat after the game.”

“Before the summer of my junior year, my high school coach sat down with me and asked what college coaches I wanted to speak to. I told him that I wanted him to put me in touch with the coaching staff at the University of Virginia. His response is one that I’ll never forget and still causes my blood to boil. He sat there and laughed and then said, “oh, you were serious?” I think that conversation motivated me to get to this point that I’m at today”

“My freshman year at Appalachian State I did well for myself. I got shelled one or two times (maybe like four but ya know who’s counting?), but ultimately, I led the freshman class in my conference in appearances and held a 3.43 era to my name. Following that year my coach was fired and I decided it was in my best interest to transfer to another school that was closer to home.”

“Luckily UMBC had known me in high school and seen enough video from me at App State to know that I had talent to play at the Division I level. I sat out my first year at UMBC due to NCAA transfer rules and spent a ton of time working out and developing my craft.”

“My first year playing at UMBC I finished the year with a 1.72 era, which put me 12th in the nation among D1 pitchers, and 10 saves which was a school record. I knew that if I did well in the summer I could essentially transfer to any school in the nation. That summer I made my way to the Cape and had even more success, finishing up the year with a 0.95 era against the best hitters in the nation. When I heard that I was going to play in the all-star game I broke down in my car and started crying, just because I had all of these goals and I had finally proven myself on the biggest stage I had ever been on.”

“That following fall I talked to my coaches at UMBC and told them that I planned on transferring at the end of the year. They told me that they were fully supportive of me and that they thought it would be the best decision for my career. I finally was getting the chance to play at my dream school.”

“At Virginia, I pitched well in the fall and earned my spot as a go to reliever. When the spring season started, I was truly living out my dream.  I was closing games at my dream school; we were 18 games into the season. I had pitched in 11 of them and picked up 5 saves, putting me at second in the nation in both categories. I was on top of the world.”

“Even though the season was cut short, I’m still proud of all I achieved. In my time in college baseball I’ve just about seen it all, and I hope that my story inspires kids out there who are in a similar situation. Regardless of what anyone tells you, bet on yourself, and believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. Commit to your dreams and put everything you’ve got into working towards those dreams. Power through when the road gets tough and know that better things will come.”

Max Hazzard – Senior University of Arizona Basketbal

“Ever since I can remember I’ve been playing basketball or have been around it. My love for the game naturally grew. My favorite player in middle school was Russell Westbrook. I modeled my game after his and would try and play just like him. When I got to high school I started watching Steph Curry every day, whether it was on YouTube or watching his games on TV. I just kind of fell in love with how he played and who he was as a player. From all of that I saw a transition in my game.”

Coming out of HS, I thought I’d come to UC Irvine and immediately be the man. When I heard the news that they were planning on redshirting me for my freshman year it was kind of a punch to the gut. Looking back, I’m grateful for that humbling experience because it gave me time to develop and turned me into the player I am today.”

“I had 2 shoulder surgeries in 4 years at UCI. When I tore my labrum for the second time, I remember thinking ‘I don’t know if I can do this again. I don’t know if I can do 6-9 months of rehab again with no guarantees.’ It was super discouraging, but my teammates and family helped me get through it and I’m really glad I did.”

 “To finally win that conference tournament and be named the MVP was special. To win 31 games anywhere and reach the second round of the NCAA tournament is not easy, that was a special team, a special year.”

“It was a surreal experience when I entered the transfer portal. After being underrecruited in high school, it was special for me to have top programs finally reach out with offers. When Coach Miller at the University of Arizona was the first to call I thought, ‘Is Sean Miller really calling me?’”

 “It was a dream come true to follow my brother Jacob and come play at the University of Arizona for my final year. Every kid dreams of going to a big university, playing in front of packed arenas every night, and being on national TV. I’m grateful that Arizona let me be a part of that for my final year.”

“I hope this has all taught us one big lesson to enjoy and be grateful for what we have. People say ‘treat every game like your last,’ but no one really knows how to do it. I think now we know how to do it. I’m so grateful for everything basketball has given me.”

“I’m grateful for the life lessons that I’ve gotten through the game. It’s really about the lessons of overcoming and staying consistent and persistent and it’s been a privilege to learn that throughout my career.” 

Joe Thomas – Senior Mountain View High School Baseball

“My junior year season ended early because of a hand injury that resulted in a surgery. It was a devastating injury because I was going to play with probably the best Mountain View Baseball team (talent-wise) in school history. After surgery, in May of 2019, my goal was to return back to my normal game within a month after recovery which would be in mid to late June.”

 “After much waiting, I was cleared to play a week earlier than anticipated, because of all the hard work to get to the position I was in, and continued to work to be my best self for my Senior season the following March. After months of grind, at practice, home, gym, and my arm care throwing program I was ready to play my first game of my senior season. I had a lot of goals in mind such as being on an all-region team, playing well enough to get more opportunities to play at the next level, and many more.” 

“I struggled hitting for the first few games of my senior  season. I faced real frustration when I couldn’t help my team. Though I faced discouragement, I wouldn’t let it keep me down because we still had many games left in the year and all our hard work was not going to waste.”

“I continued to find ways to get back into my normal groove of hitting. Just a couple of games later I was feeling a lot more comfortable at the plate, but unfortunately, the season was canceled. At first it didn’t feel real and it didn’t quite hit me, but then I realized this could’ve been the last time I would ever lace up my cleats and get ready for another game with my brother.”

“I forever want to thank my parents for doing all they did to get me to the position that I was in. I will never forget their support  regardless of how I played. I dedicated my season to my Grandpa who’s struggling with cancer and before he was diagnosed would never miss any of my games. He taught me to always believe in myself. He always told me to tell myself, “I can, I know I can. Why? Because I have faith, hope, and enthusiasm.” This quote will always live with me forever, for it teaches a lot, not just for the game of baseball, but about life.”

Sam Crawford – Freshman Georgia Tech Baseball

“I was 4-years-old when I started playing baseball. I was inspired to play because my great-grandfather won a world series with the cardinals in 1934. He really wanted someone in our family to play baseball. Very early on I decided that if I was going to play, I wanted to be the best I could be.”

“My junior year of high school I had an elbow injury and missed the recruiting season in its entirety. When I reached out to college coaches no one would listen to me.  I remember getting a call from a coach at a Division III school who said he had a spot for me but that I’d most likely never play.”

“I showed up to Georgia Tech in the fall as a student and emailed the coach to see if I could try out. I was on the team, working out with them every day, up until two days before the first game when I was cut. The next year followed a similar pattern.”

“Though it was discouraging, I knew I wasn’t going to quit. I didn’t want to look back on my life and realize that I had the opportunity to play, but had quit a year before everything panned out. I decided to just put my head down and go to work. I adopted the mentality that there was no reason why I couldn’t be one of the best players on the team. It became about working harder and smarter to prove to the coaches that I was ready.”

“I can’t say enough about the Coaches at Georgia Tech, especially the pitching coach. He didn’t see me as a Freshman with no game experience who had been cut twice, he saw me as someone who could make an impact on the team. When I finally saw the mound, I knew I had worked harder and was more prepared than anyone else that was making their first college appearance.”

“Looking back it was absolutely the right move to cancel the season but it definitely didn’t feel like it those first few days. I was off to a decent start and we were hitting a groove as a team. As hard as this is, I hope athletes will see it as an opportunity.”

“This is your chance to elevate yourself above the competition. You may not be able to practice, or be with your teammates, but you can improve yourself, and you’ve got a lot of time to do that.”

Karl Arvidsson – Senior Cal Swimming

“My name is Karl Arvidsson and I am a Senior on the defending national champion Cal Men’s Swim team. I entered the season with one goal in mind: lead the team to another national title. There was a bit more intensity in our everyday practices than previous years when we began training together this past August.” 

“The Olympic Games were about 11 months away and our head coach, Dave Durden, had already been selected to lead the US Men’s team in Tokyo. While several of my teammates had a good shot at representing their respective countries at the Olympics, we had our sights set on the college championship season. The Pac-12 championships at the beginning of March served as a stepping stone toward our ultimate goal of defending our title two weeks later at NCAA’s.”

“We knew we had a chance to win so long as we pushed each other to get better every day, made sacrifices in our social lives, and performed at a high level. Throughout my time at Cal, I dreamed of ending my college swimming career with a national title, while doing it with an outstanding group of men and representing the best community I’ve better been a part of.”

“As we moved toward championship season, our excitement was building. The team continued to train well, race well and above all else, enjoy the time we got to spend together. We had a unique chemistry and Coach Durden borrowed a quote from LSU Football Coach Ed Orgeron that encapsulated this energy; signing every group message with the words “One Heartbeat, One Team.” 

“The Pac-12 Championships proved that we were on track to defend our National Title. We won our third consecutive conference championship and qualified 14 swimmers to represent Cal at NCAA’s. By no stretch of my imagination did I, or any of the other five seniors who qualified for NCAA’s, think that the Pac-12’s would be our last collegiate swim meet.”

“While we were heartbroken when we found out that the National Championships had been cancelled, we all knew it was the right decision. The cancellation made me appreciate what I value most about my life as a swimmer. I will be forever grateful for the friendships I have made and the people that I have learned from throughout my sixteen-year swimming career. “

“This was not how any of us imagined our senior season’s would end but we are thankful that we have each other, the Cal Men’s swimming community, and cannot wait to go to the NCAA’s in Iowa City at the end of next March and lose our voices cheering for the still defending National Champion Cal Bears.”

Bryce Choate – Senior Oral Roberts University XC / Track and Field

“Track has been consistent through the most uncertain times of my life. My collegiate career began at a small NAIA institution, Tennessee Wesleyan University. My first two years were full of athletic success but mental struggles. I felt as if my life was a series of decisions based on everyone’s expectations. In the midst of my darkest times of confusion, my sophomore season exceeded everyone’s expectations. Although I questioned who I was, I could always count on track to keep me focused. My life was disoriented when my coach announced he was taking a position at another university. Despite many obstacles, I transferred to join my coach at Oral Roberts University.”

“The joy of becoming a DI student-athlete came to a screeching halt during my first season at ORU. Doctors found a mass in my chest that made it almost intolerable to eat and painful to run. Five months of bloodwork and testing ultimately ended with minimally invasive chest surgery. Those five months were when I hit rock bottom. With my sport stripped away, I was forced to examine my identity without it. Those days of questioning finally allowed me to discover who I really was. I returned with a new perspective of gratitude for everything in my life. I made a strong comeback the next year, but  Achilles tendinopathy ended my season again. Months of different treatments ultimately allowed me to come back for a fifth season. Everything was in order and looking towards the best comeback I could imagine. That is, until COVID-19 entered the global scene. For the third year in a row, my season has ended early for reasons outside my control.”

“This story sounds like a tragedy, but everything lined up for a reason. If any of those events were removed, I would not be who I am today. I might not have survived the trials I faced if I did not have the supportive community at ORU. My pain taught me a lesson that can help others going through similar trials. Every situation is an opportunity to grow and help those around us. I learned that track is something I do, but it is not who I am. Track is just one avenue where I can use my purpose to impact those around me.”

“Our purpose is so much bigger than our sport. You can have an impact without competing. I hope everyone reading this knows that you have value within you, not just in what you do. Let’s take the time to help one another. You will understand your value when you see how appreciative others are of your kindness. Be a light in the darkness of our world.”

Lauren Loven – Senior Denver University Basketball

My name is Lauren Loven. I am a senior at the University of Denver and I am double majoring in International Business and Finance. I have been playing basketball ever since I could walk. I worked my whole life to fulfill my dream of playing D1 basketball. 

The University of Denver has given me an amazing 4 years and I was able to accomplish great things with my team. I broke the 3 point record for my school and the summit league with the most 3s in a single season with 111. I also was ranked top 10 all 4 years in 3 pointers made. I finished my career 8th on the all time scoring list for DU and 2nd all time 3pt shooter for the league. 

“All this success came with hardships. There were days where I was mentally weak and would find myself in shooting slumps. I was hard on myself which would then reflect poorly on my team. I had to find strength and confidence within myself and trust my teammates that no matter what, we always have each other. Competing at the D1 level isn’t easy and it takes a lot of time, dedication and love for your game to make a name for yourself.”

“DU has given me the opportunity to do just that and I am grateful for all the memories and relationships I formed over the years. My heart goes out to all the individuals who lost their seasons due to the coronavirus. I know what that last game feels like and I am saddened that so many athletes had that last game feeling earlier than they were expecting. You just never know when you will be done with the game forever.”

“I learned over the years that you can never take anything for granted and you have to treat every rep, practice, and game like it is your last. Trust yourself and keep striving to be the best you can be. I hope everyone who has passion and love for the game will never give up their dreams no matter what obstacles come their way. Always believe. God bless and stay safe!”

Maddy Price – Professional Canadian National Team

“My name is Maddy Price and I am a professional track athlete competing in the 400 and 4×4. I compete for the Canadian National team and was a student-athlete at Duke (18’) where I was a 6x All-American and Captain. I am training in hopes of making the (now) 2021 Olympic Games.”

“In my first year competing professionally I got to travel the world doing what I love and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Track & Field took me to Japan, Qatar, Spain (3x), Slovakia, Italy, France, Ireland, Luxembourg and many other countries. Getting to this point took years of dedication and fiery hard work, and I am just tipping the surface of where I know I can be.”

“It was so many 4th and 5th places (world relays and world champs) , it was about 7 or 8 2nd place ACC medals but never a championship, it was believing that my time is coming soon.But maybe not as soon as we thought with the IOC officially announcing that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are postponed to 2021.”

“I am so proud of Team Canada for being the leader in pulling out of the 2020 Olympics to prioritize public health and the safety of its athletes, families and communities. This is bigger than sports, bigger than our dreams and bigger than the Olympics.”

“All of the emotion during this uncertain time comes in waves just like grief does too. My dad who passed away about three years ago from melanoma cancer, at the end of his life said that we are remembered for how we made people feel and how they made us feel. He said that human connection is what lasts forever. Not the things you can write on a resume. I think this notion can be easy to forget in our go-getter society, and especially growing up in Silicon Valley.”

“But if loss has taught me anything and if this quarantine teaches all of us anything, it’s that human connection and impact is what carries on, it’s what gives us light, gives us hope and at the end of the day what unites us more than any sport or accomplishment ever could.”

“So above all else in my career, I hope to just fully engage with the amazing people along this journey. Those who continuously inspire me like my little sister who just lost her graduation and her senior season playing lacrosse at William and Mary…who lost dad her freshman year and tore her ACL her sophomore year.. she is the biggest fighter I know & the hardest worker I know. “

“I think grit runs deep in my family and I couldn’t be more proud of that. We have a deep seeded sense of heart…something we got from my mum and dad. We will never give up because we know that getting knocked down just means it’s another opportunity to stand up stronger.” #daybyday

Daniel Connolly – Senior SMU Golf

“I took up the game of golf at a young age and it has been my passion ever since. My earliest memories are filled with time spent on the golf course with friends and family. I fell in love with the game and started competing the year after I first picked up a club. Competitive golf has shaped me into who I am today and continues to challenge me in ways that aid in my development as an athlete and as a person.”

“My time as a collegiate golfer has perhaps been the most transformative period of my life thus far. I came into SMU in 2016 following a fairly successful high school/junior career. As a freshman, I was in the starting lineup for each event and had one of the better scoring averages on the team. I played well in the tournaments I competed in that summer and felt as if I was gradually improving and getting closer to fulfilling my life-long dream of playing at the highest level. Playing in the #1 spot at the beginning of my sophomore season, I had high expectations for myself and was hoping for a break-through year. Unfortunately, I struggled throughout my sophomore campaign and my confidence began to erode. I hit a low point the following year when I did not make the starting lineup throughout my junior season. Looking back on it, those times of struggle taught me invaluable lessons and showed me how fortunate I am to be surrounded by great people who have my best interests at heart. It allowed me to put the game in perspective and realize that it is what I do but not who I am.”

“After over a year of not starting, I was able to get back into the starting lineup at the beginning of this spring season. Seeing as things were starting to come together and we had a team with the potential to do something special, I was heartbroken when I heard that our season would be cut short.” “I was so looking forward to having one last chance to make a run at the post season with a group of guys that are like brothers to me. Although my time as a college athlete may be over, the bonds created over the past 4 years will last forever. We’re all in this together and we’ve all stayed optimistic through it all. The best is yet to come! We may not be able to do what we love at the moment, but we will always have each other and years of fond memories.”

Markus Howard – Senior Marquette Basketball

“To be a senior basketball player in the post season, you want to make the most of each and every day. No matter how the regular season went, you look forward to the opportunity to make your mark as a player and team in March. I’ll never forget hearing the news that ours as well as so many people around the country’s season would be over due to the coronavirus.”

“So many emotions came over so many people, but I took the time to reflect on all the things that God has presented in this tough time around the world. What really matters is that we all come together and show a sense of community. A sense of hope. Though the world seems to be put on pause let’s find the beauty in what we have which is our time on this earth with the ones we love. Let’s not worry about what will happen down the road, but rather let today be our focus and embrace the moments we have because you never know when it could be taken from you. God bless and be safe.”