Penny Visits Long Beach Memorial

Spends Time Inspiring Victim of Gang Violence

On March 10th, 10-year old Erica Miranda was outside playing basketball in her neighborhood. She had just come from basketball practice but loves the game so much that she wanted to put extra time in. The fourth-grade Spelling Bee Champion was one of three people shot by a gang member for no apparent reason. Now, she is at Long Beach Memorial's Miller Children's Hospital recovering from three gunshot wounds when all she wanted to do was improve her game and enjoy being outside.

The Sparks heard about the story and VP/GM Penny Toler decided that we had to get involved. We didn't want this young girl with amazing talent, both on and off the court, in just the fourth grade to quit playing basketball because of her experience.

As Penny walked into the children's hospital ward, she saw a young girl getting back into her wheelchair after finishing rehab. She immediately recognized Erica and introduced herself. Erica looked up and smiled and invited her into her room. As her father and the nurse helped her into her bed, Penny sat down and began speaking to her. Asking her what position she played, if she had ever been to a Sparks game and of course, how she was doing in school. Erica told her that she played center but could also handle the ball and hit the outside shot. She'd never been to a Sparks game but knew that was certain to change after this visit. She also talked about how she enjoyed school and received all A's and B's.

"I'm glad we had an opportunity to inspire Erica's life," said Toler. "She is a wonderful person who is not only a gifted athlete but she's a great student as well. It was great to be able to spend time giving back to someone who really aspires to play in the WNBA."

As the visit went on, Erica become more and more involved in the conversation and it was apparent that she was a happy, fun-loving kid and this incident would not break her spirit or competitive drive. Her room was filled from wall to wall with cards, gifts, flowers and balloons from teammates, school teachers, friends and well-wishers. That was a true testament to the great character this 10-year old girl possessed. Her mother was there and all she kept saying was, "I'm so thankful that you came; I love seeing my daughter smile again."

The visit ended with Penny giving Erica a bag full of goodies, including a Candace Parker autographed jersey, and perhaps the two best gifts of all: an invitation for her and her whole team to attend a Sparks practice and the opportunity for Erica to be an official ballgirl for the Sparks during the season.

"The wonderful thing about the WNBA is that being part of it gives you a chance to personally touch people's lives. We had an opportunity to make a difference in Erica's life today and if the league wasn't here, we wouldn't have been able to do such a good thing for such a great person today."