Monday, December 1, 2008

“Fighting For Our Military Children”

The day I met Ketia in person over ten years ago remains lucid: pigtails, walking on her tip-toes with an unusual gait, and a crooked right pinky as she appeared in the gym doors. It was a surreal moment for an eleven-year-old: my parents had been writing to our local congressional representatives for months on behalf of Ketia’s father, Cornell, who was hoping to receive his next assignment in Georgia after an extended tenure in Warzburg, Germany with the United States Army. He wanted his daughter to play basketball for my father and the organization with which I had become involved at a young age: the Georgia Magic. To quote my father and my second father, our coach Mike Green, “We knew she was something special that day.” The rest is history.

From the age of 11 to 18, I spent every summer in ill-ventilated middle school gymnasiums with Ketia and our teammates, sometimes three practices per weekend to optimize our time together and save our parents the headache of driving several hours during the week. She played a large role in leading our team to 7 consecutive Georgia State AAU Championships, 7 consecutive National Sweet 16 appearances, 1 national title, and 1 national runner-up.

We shared in these successes, but more importantly we shared in certain heartbreaks together. Ketia’s father was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Iraq for multiple tours in the early stages of the United States’ Middle East conflicts. He missed game after game, national tournament after national tournament, and win after win during the crucial years of her career. Her mother, also a retired Army First Sergeant, spent ten months in Bosnia. Practically every year from sixth grade when I met her through high school, Ketia lived in a single-parent home or with relatives. Ketia continued to dream big despite the notable absence of her father and the stress his tours in Iraq inevitably created.

After a stellar career in high school where her jersey will be retired on December 5, four years as a student-athlete at the legendary University of Connecticut, and being selected as a first-round draft pick in the WNBA, Ketia has taken the initiative to support children in the same predicament that she long endured. In August, she officially formed the Ketia4Kidz Foundation to support and uplift the children of active duty military personnel through sports, education, and life skills programs. Within it first two months of operation, Ketia made appearances at Fort Benning, where her parents were stationed before their retirement, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. to greet wounded veterans and their families. She has recently partnered with A Thousand Thanks to raise awareness on a national level of the challenges facing military children. Despite her many commitments as a professional athlete, she has elected to spend so much of her spare time to fulfill a dream of her own through fulfilling the needs of others. I was never graced with Ketia’s skill, speed, or natural instinct on the basketball court. I am not a professional athlete; I am a banker! I was honored to share the floor with Ketia and she graciously expresses the same gratitude to me. As all of us well know, our veterans, active duty personnel and their children have made and continue to make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our country. I am proud to support Ketia as she works to lessen this burden and uplift our military children.


No comments:

Post a Comment