Hoop players mentor youth

By Kendall Anthony

 Cassandra Falone and Brianna Purcell watch from the sidelines at Winooski Middle School, signs in their hands, as they watch their young middle school mentees play an intense game of basketball that goes up and down the court. Through the STRIDE program, Falone and Purcell have been given the opportunity to mentor middle school athletes throughout all of their years at Saint Michael’s, and its effect is noticeable in both parties.

At the start of its founding, the STRIDE program has provided Vermont girls with the resources they need to succeed in the sports world that all too often seems to be working against them. According to the STRIDE website, more than half of girls will drop out of sports by the age of 17. One of the subprograms, “Sisters in Sport,” pairs up a girl from Winooski Middle School with a basketball player on the women’s team at Saint Michael’s. Each season, the teams take turns watching each other’s practices and going to a game.

Photo By Shannon Bollhardt
On January 7, the Saint Michael’s women’s basketball team finish an afternoon practice with their Sister in Sports mentees of Winooski Middle School’s basketball team.

“Even beyond basketball they look up to us,” said Cassandra Falone ’20, shooting guard for the SMC women’s basketball team. Both Falone and her teammate, Brianna Purcell ’20, point guard, have been involved in the program for each of their four years on the team. “I think it just makes you feel valued as a person. You get to see that it’s comfortable, and you feel like a family where you can just be yourself” Purcell explained, speaking of the effect the partnership has on the women’s team and the middle school girls.  “We do a scrimmage against them. Sometimes they beat us which is pretty cool.” While Winooski has one of the most diverse school systems in Vermont, comparatively it also has higher levels of need. Over half of the students in the middle school alone qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

“It’s always very rewarding. I think them hearing us say ‘oh you can’t go to Saint Mike’s unless you go to class’ kind of made them think a little bit more about school and not just playing basketball.” explained Falone. Basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (the same age as many of the middle school girls in the program) were killed in a helicopter crash on January 26. Speaking on Bryant’s influence in the sport, Falone said that “young women can see that they are valued and important, and capable of success just like men’s players. He was able to pave the road for his daughter’s success, so if we, as mentors, to the Winooski girls are able to do remotely as much for young women as Kobe did, we will be more than successful. He is a role model for the mentors in our program.”

Leslie Wright, the founder of STRIDE and Sisters in Sport, “They’re on each other’s teams, and it just supercharges the athletic experience for these girls. It’s just remarkable that you can see the positive influence on the girls.” Wright explained. “What I have seen is girls’ self-esteem being built up. It also builds their ability to advocate for themselves.” For non-athletic students looking to get involved with mentoring, the MOVE program at Saint Michael’s has several options.