For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid sports fan. Despite growing up cheering for losing teams, it is still a major characteristic of mine. I do not know if this love of sports developed from being a fan for so many years, or from playing so many different sports growing up. It is very likely it came from a combination of the two. My love for sports has shaped who I am, and is now shaping my future. I find myself loving sports for three main reasons: the stories they create, the lessons I learn from them, and the connections they allow me to have with other people.
Sports stories have always captured my attention and inspired me. I grew up cheering for underdogs, which only fueled my love for a Cinderella story. For instance, growing up an Alabama fan was not as great as it is now. My early memories of Alabama football are during times of coaching hires and fires, and the never-ending years of Mike Shula. I can remember the names of players who I knew had the talent to make us great, but 500 seasons were the best we were getting. I remember losing to Auburn six years in a row and having kids at school bully me about it, only because my love for Alabama was so widely known. That is what made the 2009 Iron Bowl victory of 36-0 so sweet, and not just because it was on my birthday. In the six years of losing to the Tigers, they had never shut us out. It was only right that the streak ended with one in our favor. It seemed to be poetic justice for both me and my team.
When I was not cheering for the Tide on Saturdays, I was cheering for the New Orleans Saints on Sundays. My dad is from New Orleans and was born the same year that the Saints started. I knew that I was cheering for one of the worst teams in the NFL, but it was our family team. Everything turned around in 2006 when the Saints returned to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. I clearly remember Steve Gleason blocking a punt and it being returned for a touchdown to secure the first win back in New Orleans. Not to mention, it was against the rival Atlanta Falcons. This single play not only brought about success of a team, but also the success of a city. Then, just a few years later, something happened that everyone in the world had joked never would: the Saints won the Super Bowl. It was huge for the city, and for underdogs everywhere, but also for my family. I do not know if I’ve ever seen my dad so excited. The Saints had finally come into their own and had their time. It proved that even the impossible could be achieved.
These stories gave me hope growing up that things do eventually turn out like they should. It sounds silly, but that is how they made me feel. And soon I found it even in fictional stories such as Remember the Titans and Glory Road. I found out that no matter how much the odds are stacked against you, you can overcome them by working hard and doing the right thing.
I learned these things as a fan, but I learned even more lessons as an athlete. I started playing sports when I was five and have not stopped since. I remember knowing sports were for me when I walked into ballet class and told my teacher I was quitting to play basketball. She argued that ballet would help with my balance and whatnot in basketball, but even as a seven-year-old I knew that dancing was not for me and that sports were. I played basketball all through elementary and middle school, with my dad as my coach. What he taught me as a coach has resonated with me since the third grade. He taught me to play with H.E.A.R.T. This acronym stood for Hard, Enthusiastic, Always, Respectful and Together. This lesson not only carried with me on the court, but also off of it throughout life.
In fifth grade, I also picked up volleyball. To do this day, I do not know why I started playing, other than maybe my friends were and talked me into it. I was one of the tallest girls on the team at the time so I played middle blocker. And to fulfill the cliché, I fell in love at first spike. And first pass and first serve. I learned what it was like to truly love every aspect of a sport. This love drove me to stick with it for years, all the way to high school. By that time, I knew I was not the best athlete on the team. I was no longer the tallest one, and I could not jump to save my life. I was not fast and was not the best passer. I got moved all around the court, but I stayed a member of the team. This time made me grow as an athlete and realize that I have to put in my best work for something more than myself. I knew I would not be getting a lot of playing time, but I also knew that if I practiced my best, it would make my teammates better and the team better as a whole. This instilled in me the discipline to lead by example in every aspect of life. I learned to do everything I could for the team, so that we might all be successful in one way or another.
Being both a fan and an athlete has made me grow as a person in ways I never would have otherwise. It has made me trusting, disciplined and hard working. But most importantly, it has connected me with countless people. I remain friends with childhood teammates, despite not having played with them for years. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are with those girls and the times we had. My high school teammates had a major influence on me. They pushed me to work harder even when I was hurting. They encouraged me to do my best and patted me on the back when they saw I did just that. Even in college, I have found new friends through sports by playing on intramural teams. It has brought me closer to people I would otherwise barely know. Doing so has made me realize the importance of community and connection.
But nothing has taught me this more so than being a fan. For instance, I found friends here at school based on the fact that they are Saints fans and are people I can watch the games with. It has makes me feel proud and included when I find that connection with someone, especially fellow Alabama fans. I love being able to say “Roll Tide” to anyone wearing anything with the script “A” or houndstooth, no matter where I am. Instances like these make me realize that sports are something that can connect people universally. They can come from different places, social classes, or backgrounds, but none of that matters once that one common love for a sport is revealed.
There is no doubt that sports are a major part of my life. I have watched and played them for as long as I can remember, and I hope to someday be reporting on them. Studying sports and their impact has made me sit back and look at how they have impacted me. I am happy to say that without sports, I would not be who I am.