Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Sparks hosted a panel for the Marlborough girls varsity and JV basketball teams at the Athleta store at the Grove. The event was part of a two-day celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day that is on February 5.
The panel included franchise president and COO Danita Johnson, Sparks senior vice president Natalie White, Sparks athletic trainer Courtney Watson and NFL On-Air personality Kimberly Chexnayder. Sparks vice president of corporate partnerships Cay Young moderated the discussion.
Various topics were discussed in the intimate panel, the students learned about the backgrounds of each panelist as well as gleaned their advice and wisdom.
White talked about the legacy she built at Florida A&M University as a basketball player, Williams shared with the students her experience working with her role model Tina Thompson. Chexnayder explained her tactics of networking during her time at the NFL Network and how that led to her current job.
Williams noted the importance of teaching young girls about self-respect and not taking no for an answer.
“As we stick together with women and sports, you can get a lot of inspiration,” Williams said. “I think it’s just really important to teach the young girls how to inspire, how to dream, and how to just be yourself.”
Chexnayder was selected the NFL Junior Rotational Program, which lasts for two years. Although she suffered from Imposter Syndrome—believing that she was not qualified for the program—she took time to remind herself of her own achievements.
“I think for me it was just reaffirming my presence and what I have to bring to the table. So the nerves kind of dissipated,” Chexnayder said. “Once I was able to get a seat at the table, I proved myself immediately.”
While she was working on her Masters degree, White had a marketing internship with Nike during the time when the WNBA started. She explained how she worked 80 hours a week for the internship and how to network with professionals in their field of interest.
“You’re never too young to start,” White said. “Have informational interviews with people … use your phone to help you better yourself, so you can schedule those informational interviews.”
The night before, the L.A. Sparks took over Marlborough’s senior night game against Notre Dame Academy. Sparks in-arena announcer Hootie called the plays and player introductions. Franchise mascot Sparky and the Sparks dance crews made an appearance. Attendees had the chance to win two VIP tickets to the Sparks home opener against the Connecticut Sun.
The Marlborough girls basketball team is ranked 14 in California with a 17-7 overall record. They ultimately made a deep run during the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs, reaching the Semifinals.
Johnson believes that working for the Sparks and the WNBA avails an opportunity to create change that will help future generations.
“My team is absolutely amazing … their ultimate goal is making sure it has impact,” Johnson said. “We want people to walk away feeling better about themselves, feeling different, feeling like they learned something.”