Photography by Jessica Turner. 

Photography courtesy of Jennifer Zoltan. 

AFTER SHE GRADUATED from W.T. White High School, Makayla Ford planned on attending community college. But during the year, she started communicating with the wrestling coach at Ottawa University in Arizona. Ford updated him on her progress throughout the season, and eventually, the coach offered her a scholarship to join the wrestling team, even though she had only wrestled one season. 

“It happened out of nowhere,” Ford says. 

Incoming junior Kayden Parry is another W.T. White student with some athletic accomplishments under her belt. When she first started high school, she was one of three ninth-graders to make the varsity cheerleading team, which hadn’t happened for 21 years. 

“I was just so scared,” Parry says. “But I was invited by all of these girls with warm hearts and huge hugs.”

Ford and Parry are two of about 300 girls who participated in athletics at their school last year. Although there was a small decrease in athletic participation, the Longhorns achieved some victories, athletic director Tony Johnson says. Eleven girls on the track team competed in the regional meet, and the softball team made the playoffs for the first time in five years. Following a district win last season, the girls soccer team advanced to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

“You play sports, it helps you learn to deal with adversity, helps you learn with overcoming odds, teaches you to learn with different groups of people,” Johnson says. “It teaches you to prioritize.” 

Here is what Ford and Parry have learned from playing sports. 

A balancing act 

Grade checks for eligibility ensure that athletes can’t ignore their academics. Parry, who’s in the top 6% of her class, understands that her schoolwork has to come first. What she has struggled with is finding time to see her friends on the weekend.   

Ford’s situation is different because she participated in several sports during the same season.  That forced her to carefully coordinate with her softball, track and wrestling coaches to make sure she could attend as many practices as possible. She also had to factor in her job, sometimes having to get co-workers at Chick-fil-A to cover her shifts. 

Advice to new teammates

Parry encourages anyone joining cheerleading to ask their teammates questions. “Come in with a big smile and be loud,” Parry says. 

When girls are facing challenges in sports and want to quit, Ford advises them to remember why they started playing in the first place. “Play every game like it’s your last,” Ford says, “because one day, it will be the last time playing.”

Memories  

Although Ford loves the feeling she gets while playing catcher and leading her softball team, her favorite sport is track. She has competed in the long jump and the 100-meter, as well as the 4×100-, 4×200- and 4×400-meter relays. “In order to get faster, you can’t just give up,” Ford says. “In practice, you feel like you’re dying, but when you push through, it’s a really good relief.”

Parry loves the camaraderie and bonding on the bus rides back to school after away games. “No matter how we did, we always played music really loud,” she says. “And we’re just dancing on the bus, and it’s super fun.” 


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