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How To Channel Your Grief Over Gianna Bryant And Her Teammate Into Helping Other Girls Play Basketball

By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens shares ways we "can invest some of our own life and love into another girl's potential."

Chicago Tribune

Gianna Bryant's hoop dreams were well and truly documented.

Maybe you've seen the clip. It's been in wide circulation since the 13-year-old was killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash with her dad, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and seven others. In the clip, Kobe Bryant is on Jimmy Kimmel's show. Kimmel asks if Gianna wants to play in the WNBA. Her dad says, "She does for sure." He talks about fans approaching him when he's out with Gianna and telling him he needs to have a son to carry on his legacy.

"She's like, 'I got this,' " he tells Kimmel. " 'Don't need no boy for that. I got this.' "

Gianna was determined to play for University of Connecticut before going pro. Google "Gianna Bryant highlights" if you want to see her potential for yourself.

Her death is, in every single way, a monumental tragedy. For the hole it leaves in her mother's heart. For the holes it leaves in her sisters' hearts. For her young friends who are now grieving, for the fans who revered her who are now mourning, for her dreams that will go unfulfilled.

A friend posted on my Facebook page Sunday night, "How about a deserving girls basketball team/club where we can send donations in Gigi's name?"

Gianna's teammate Alyssa Altobelli and her parents, John and Keri, were also killed in the crash. The families were flying to a basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks, California. Kobe Bryant was their coach. Assistant coach Christina Mauser was also killed in the crash.

It's hard to wrap your head around that much life and love and potential snuffed out in an instant. Honoring all of it, all of them, with an investment in girls basketball strikes me as fitting.

I called Bill Curry. He's the former varsity basketball coach at Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park. He stepped down from Westinghouse in 2017 to ramp up his time and responsibilities at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, where he's the chief program officer for Breakthrough's youth network.

"Gianna was a big-time player," Curry said. "I thought Kobe Bryant's future impact was actually going to be greater, as a dad and a promoter of girls basketball, than his impact as a player."

Curry lives and works on Chicago's West Side. He said the dearth of opportunities for girls to learn and play basketball really hit him when his daughters got old enough to start playing. (His younger daughter now plays for Westinghouse, where his son also played. His older daughter plays for Olivet Nazarene University.)

"Basketball is such an incredible opportunity to learn and grow as a human being," he said. "We can't just be responding to those who already love it. We have to be able to market it to people who could benefit from the game."

But if it's not available at your school or your park district, and you don't have the funds or resources to travel all over the city, state, and sometimes country, to play in a private club, the sport can feel out of your reach. Breakthrough tries to remedy that.

Breakthrough hosts a coed basketball league for elementary age girls at its West Side facility. On Friday nights, the group hosts games for high school age girls to train with local coaches. Breakthrough partners with Full Package Athletics, a suburban-based basketball club, to bring girls from the West Side to play in Amateur Athletic Union games where college scouts and coaches can see what they're made of.

This summer, Curry said, Breakthrough is planning to launch an evening league for high school junior and senior girls to compete against players from nearby women's collegiate basketball programs, such as St. Xavier, Roosevelt, Robert Morris and Olivet Nazarene.

"We want to get the girls playing with some mentors who are a little older, but not as old and stodgy as me," Curry said. (He's 47.)

Basketball, he said, is a gift. It teaches you how to perform under stress. It teaches you to focus on your individual output even as you work for the good of a team. It reminds you to lift up the people around you.

"It's a blend of 'I'm trying to be successful and I'm trying to help my team be successful,' " he said. "And one without the other doesn't feel very good."

A big part of Curry's job is fundraising. Breakthrough hosts a gala every October. He writes a lot of grant applications. He and other Breakthrough staffers attend fundraisers in people's homes, where they talk about the power of the organization to change lives.

He'd love to see people donate to his program in Gianna Bryant's and Alyssa Altobelli's names.

"We're available and we're local and people can see where their dollars are going," he said. "We're happy to give tours. Sometimes you just want to show up and be like, 'I helped do this.'"

Girls in the Game is another Chicago organization that empowers girls through sports, including basketball. On the donation page, the group says $10 a month allows a girl to attend sleep-away camp in the summer. A donation of $100 per month for one year pays for after school programming for up to 30 girls.

The Chicago Sky, the city's WNBA team, has a Sky Cares program that promotes STEM and literacy and other educational programs.

CPS SCORE (Sports Can Open Roads to Excellence) is a no-cut sports program for fifth through eighth graders at Chicago Public Schools. The group allows donors to designate specific programs they'd like to fund.

Nothing will make Sunday's crash less devastating. But maybe it can be a reminder to look around and see where we can invest some of our own life and love into another girl's potential. That means something. It could, in fact, mean everything. ___ Join the Heidi Stevens Balancing Act Facebook group, where she continues the conversation around her columns and hosts occasional live chats. ___ (Contact Heidi Stevens at [email protected], or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.) ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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