2009 NGWSD Essay Contest Winner - Melissa Norton

The last game I ever suited up for was nearly 20 years ago. But it wasn’t the last day that changed the course of my life. There were many days, many practices, and even a few games that made me who I am.

One defining moment came the final day of tryouts, in 1988. The coaches announced seven varsity and seven JV players that made the cut. Three more for each squad would be posted by the end of the week, but the coaching staff was going to discuss those choices further. I nearly peed myself when my name was called: “We’ll take Akers, because she’s got the most hustle on the floor.”

They cut much better players than me. My coach pulled me aside and told me that I made the team because she needed someone who would keep giving more, no matter how hard, to motivate the team. She said that I was all heart and loved the game enough to shame the more talented girls if they started slacking. She wanted me to push hard in scrimmages, and I’d see court time if we were far enough ahead. “You’re not a natural born player, but if you keep playing with that much heart, you’ll always have a jersey.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t really that good of a player. But I loved basketball. I loved the feel of the ball in my hands, the squeak of shoes on the court; I loved the un-ladylike jostling and blocking-out that went on under the hoop. I just kept hoping that if I tried hard enough, I’d transform into a great player at some point.

It didn’t happen. What I didn’t know at the time, what no one did, was that I have one leg that is longer than the other, and one of my “flat” feet is actually deformed. I was grinding bone on bone. Today, I’m legally handicapped. No one told me that I had no chance on the court. Thank God for that, or I might not have played! But play I did.

I am the first female in my family with a college degree. I got my A.A. at 19 and my bachelor’s 14 years later. It was a weird journey, and I got in my own way a lot, but I kept hustling. Because in 1988, Coach Reid told me that if I kept hustling it’d pay off. It did then, and it does now.

My 11-year old daughter is a natural born player. Watching her tear across the court, with her adorable fierce game face, brings tears to my eyes. I have to get her feet casted every year for prescription shoe inserts so she can safely play. She’s got her mother’s feet, but a good podiatrist. She’s all about ball right now, and if she keeps at it, she’ll be unstoppable. If she loses interest at some point and wants to do something else, she’ll be unstoppable at that, too. As long as she hustles.

Melissa Norton
19 and Over Winner