Our Team, Our Bond

By Ros Gold-Onwude

Sunday, June 24th, the New York Liberty will hold their annual Dads and Daughters Day game presented by Chase at the Prudential Center. The afternoon starts at Fan Fest where fans can enjoy games, contests, celebrity autographs, and a barbeque and finishes with the main event, a matchup between the New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream. While the afternoon promises hours of fun, The Liberty and its corporate partner, Chase, have organized this tradition to celebrate and cement the special bond between father and daughter. Since the team’s 1996 creation as one of the original eight charter teams of the WNBA, the New York Liberty has provided families and friends in the Tri-State area a team, community, and culture they can call their own, influence the nature of, and share a passion for with one another. For long time Liberty season ticket holder, Mark Wilson, the investment in his family by way of the Liberty started even before his children were born.

Mark Wilson and his wife, Judy, were there from the start. After attending the first and last game of the inaugural WNBA season they were hooked. When Mark and Judy came to a Liberty game they were met with high fives, hellos, and people that were not only Liberty fans, but also friends. “We have friends in Brooklyn, in New Jersey, even had people who attended our wedding that we befriended at a Liberty game”, Judy explained. All these strangers, for one reason or another, bought into the birth of a new women’s professional league and their local team and found not only competitive games, but also friendships. “It was Mark’s idea to give the New York Liberty a try”, Judy admitted. Mark explained, “I was curious what the buzz was all about and wanted to see if the league could stick and grow on the public”. For Mark, supporting female athletes didn’t seem out of the norm. He’d grown up supporting female friends who excelled at sports in high school and in college. Both Mark and Judy played sports as kids and recreationally at their colleges. Mark participated in basketball, track and rowing while Judy signed up for fencing. As a married couple, they chose the New York Liberty to enjoy together and became regulars. They were committed. “We had our second daughter, Catie, July 15th, the day after a Liberty game. Judy held on tight- she wasn’t going to miss the game”, Mark joked.

The Wilsons are the parents of two daughters, Morgan, age 10, and Catie, age 7. Already immersed in sport culture, the girls balance their schoolwork with a year round sports calendar. They participate in swimming on weekdays after school, gymnastics on weekends, soccer during the spring and basketball during the winter. For the first time ever Catie participated in basketball this year. “My dad is my coach”, she explained. “He gives me advice on my game to slow down and put my hands up”. When Mark takes the girls to Liberty games he points out those very lessons being acted out by the Liberty players. “Its not all about basketball when I take the girls to the games; it’s the whole package. As a kid growing up in New York City, having season tickets to any event in Madison Square Garden or, in the interim, the Prudential Center is pretty darn cool. We have seats near the tunnel where the players run out onto the court. The girls can see them up close and get high fives from the players”. Morgan favors soccer but still enjoys New York’s professional women’s basketball team for the game day experience, the players, and cheering… she enjoys the cheering, a lot. “When the game is close I get excited and nervous. I try to help the Liberty play well by getting LOUD,” she says matter-of-factly. Each year Morgan finds a new favorite player to follow. “I met the players in person and they are very nice. Kia Vaughn is my favorite this year; she signed my shirt”, she confides about the WNBA’s 2011 Most Improved Player. “The girls and I have attended Liberty playoff games at Madison Square Garden, and special location games at Radio City Music Hall and Arthur Ashe Stadium. We talk about the Liberty at home. They’ve been watching the Liberty since they were born. This is their team. I think they would miss it if it wasn’t there” said Mark.

Attending Liberty games with their dad shaped the girl’s expectations and understanding of what and who an athlete can be. Judy remembers a revealing moment that stood out to her as cute yet important, “When Morgan was four or five we drove past a huge New York Knicks sign near Madison Square Garden and Morgan yelled out, Oh look! A boy Liberty!” The moment evoked both laughter and a moment of revelation. These girls and their generation have never viewed their role in sports as surprising and groundbreaking, rather, it was a given.

Over the years, the New York Liberty has evolved into part of the family identity, custom and tradition for the Wilson’s the same way some families enjoy the Mets or Yankees or Rangers, or Knicks. The girls have sea-foam green running through their veins. “Catie could spell “Liberty” before any other word”, Mark joked. “I started taking the girls to games and saw that there were a lot of other fathers and daughters there. It was the first group we started to notice. It evolved into this place you could go to with your daughters and have a bonding moment with”, he explained.

Mark discussed coaching his youngest daughter, Catie, in basketball. “My favorite part of working on basketball with her is watching her interest get piqued. I look forward to when she gets older and starts to understand the technicalities of the game better. Right now she is having fun and is becoming a passionate fan”. Long into the distance is the faint glimmer of possibility of a daughter who may develop to play sports at a top level, perhaps in college, maybe even professionally. “I hope they will grow up to be competitive, but that’s not the only thing. I just want to start an interest. To help them find a team to be fans of, whether that’s a college team or professional, I want them to find something to get into”.

Mark Wilson’s story is just one of many father-daughter stories that the New York Liberty and Chase celebrate on Dads and Daughters Day. The father daughter bond through sports is often an unspoken understanding, sometimes difficult to find the words to describe. Mark gave it a try, “You know when friends are fans of the same team, you can share the same passion, share the same intensity with one another. When you can experience that with family, with my girls, in the same way… its cool. It’s just…”, he paused to find the right word, “…fun”.