Saturday, May 9, 2009

Despite challenges, military brats should aim high in game of life

However challenging their lives might be, military brats should aim high, according to Ketia Swanier (pronounced swan-yea), who while growing up seldom had both of her parents at home. Ketia’s mother, Rosie, and her father, Cornell, both were Army First Sergeants. Ketia now plays for the Women’s National Basketball Association. She visited Fort Hood, Texas on Thursday and Friday with Keela Carr to speak with military brats at Smith Middle School and a meet and greet at the Clear Creek Main Exchange and Saturday for her 1st annual basketball classic at Bronco Youth Center.

While she was going to school at Fort Polk, La., and then at Fort Hood, one parent or the other was deployed, first to Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and then Iraq, she said.

Their absence didn’t stop Ketia from having a stellar career in basketball or from giving back to military children facing similar challenges today.

“I was born a military brat; so I experienced what these kids are going through…a lot more people are being deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so I feel like it’s worse,” Ketia said, before the basketball tournament sponsored by her non-pofit organization, the Ketia4Kidz Foundation (, and the Child, Youth and School Services.

After playing point guard for the University of Connecticut from 2004 to 2008 (she graduated the year before they swept everyone to win the women’s basketball NCAA title), she became a first-round draft pick in the WNBA, where she plays for the Connecticut Sun.

The mission of Ketia4Kidz is “to motivate children of active-duty military personnel to achieve their dreams and goals by promoting excellence in academics and sports related programs,” according to its Web site.

“I just wanted to give back to the military kids and show them as an example they can do anything they put their minds to do,” Ketia said.

Despite their frequent absence, her parents motivated her most. Both were with her Saturday.

Rosie’s message for parents was, “As a mom, always be there to support them and push them. Never tell them they can’t do it. Always encourage them…”

Her mother said Ketia began playing basketball at Fort Polk, when she was six years old. That year they were stationed at Fort Hood, where they remained until Ketia was nine.

“Hood was good;” Rosie said. “I enjoyed the community because it was so much of a Family-oriented thing.”

Just five-feet six-inches tall, Ketia didn’t let her size stop her, either.

“Being small, you’re quick; that’s a big strength so I try to use that to my advantage,” she said.

Her advice to children now is, “Stay in school; make good grades. No matter what happens you’ll have that knowledge. Nobody can take that away from you.”

After leaving Fort Hood, Ketia will get ready for the Sun’s training camp May 17. She also looks forward to working more with Keela Carr, who also accompanied her Saturday.

After walking last summer from Barstow, Ca., to Arlington National Cemetery, where a wreath was placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Carr founded the 1,000 Thanks organization.

“The primary message has always been to show gratitude for veterans and to support troops,” Carr said.

On Memorial Day she will repeat her journey, visiting veterans hospitals and military installations from Barstow to Arlington. This time, she’ll have a team that includes a trainer and three drivers.

Again, she’ll miss Fort Hood.

“That’s another reason I wanted to come with Ketia today,” she added.

Carr, an athletic trainer who lives in Central Florida, met Ketia through a friend.

The difference between their organizations, she said, is, “With Ketia4Kidz we focus on the children of military Families. A lot of the time we focus on the grownups and leave the kids by the wayside.

“So, partnering with Ketia,” she added, “I’ll be letting the kids know they have a resource, supporting them.”

The classic included games between players representing the Copperas Cove Crusaders and military kids of the Ellison High School Scorpions, comprised of junior varsity and varsity teams from both schools.

After leading 23-11 at halftime, the Scorpions JV team lost in overtime, 43-38.

Coach Lonzo Cobaris blamed the Scorpions’ loss on “No teamwork. We had a big lead and gave it up because it was all about me; they didn’t play together as a team.

Crusaders coach Ken Hagger attributed the win to “A little pep talk (at halftime) and hustle. The guys just pulled it out. We changed over to a man-to-man (defense) and that pressure made the difference.”

Between the JV and varsity basketball games, a three-point shooting contest and dunking contest were held. Romando Garcia, a Copperas Cove high school student, hit six of 12 attempts to win the three-point shoot out. Nagee Adams, a Copperas Cove sophomore won the slam dunk contest. In the varsity game, the Scorpions led 31-17 at halftime and won 59-38.

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