By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Do not make excuses or blame others. Do not lay down or wallow. Persevere.
It is a mantra that Capital University junior basketball player Addie Becker has had to enact over the course of her life in various capacities, be it inequity between her sports teams and their male counterparts or staring down the end of her playing career.
Becker has been working her way back into a regular role with the Crusaders' women's basketball team after a series of knee and leg injuries nearly ended her collegiate playing career before it began. Even before that, the Cortland, Ohio native had her fair share of battles simply getting others to support her and her teammates that played on her high school's highly-successful girls' basketball team.
THE OPENING TIP
Becker's high school basketball team, the Lakeview High School Lady Bulldogs, regularly possessed winning records, won 20 or more games multiple times, were conference champions for five straight years, regularly made runs into the sectional and regional tournaments, and possessed talent that has led players to compete at the NCAA Division I level. The same could not be said for their male counterparts, and yet, the far less successful boys' team filled the gym at LHS, received "primetime scheduling", and consistently garnered the support of the school's cheerleading squad and pep band.
When the girls suited up on midweek nights or Saturday afternoon, the pomp and circumstance was nearly nonexistent. No bands. No cheerleaders. No packed stands.
"For our games, we were lucky to get our parents there," said Becker. "The more I noticed it, the more upset I got because we worked our butts off just like the boys do and we felt like we played basketball really well … and we have a different style, but we were winning a lot."
She also shared a story of protest in which she drew a boy stick figure on a piece of paper and taped it to her senior banner, prompting some attention from the school's athletic director.
"Everyone on the team thought it was funny, and it was like my little protest," she said with a chuckle. "I thought 'if everyone wants to just come watch the boys, then I'll just be a boy then!' The athletic director did not like that and would take it down."
Perhaps that is the kind of response one would expect a 17- or 18-year old to have, an off-the-cuff, humorous jab to make a point. But what Addie did next was not the response you script for the typical teenager.
A teammate of Addie's questioned her displeasure and made the comment, "that's just the way it is." One may imagine Addie's dismay and immediate rejection of that mindset. Spoiler: It was not subtle.
SHE SHOOTS …
Addie wanted answers, answers to a problem that sometimes manifests in sport regarding the inequity between men's and women's athletics. Frustrated, Addie began a campaign to find anyone who may be able to shed some light on how to right the wrongs in her situation. Her mind immediately gravitated to the WNBA.
Through letters, she explained the landscape of the Lady Bulldogs' situation and asked for any advice or ideas on how to correct it. Her letters were sent out to all the WBNA franchises, but only two replied: the Minnesota Lynx and the Atlanta Dream.
"I was so surprised, first of all, that someone emailed me back," Addie enthusiastically said, as if still in astonishment. "I figured that I was just talking into the wind … I was excited, so I told everyone. I said 'look, someone does care. Someone is looking out for us and we're not alone in this fight! People are out there to help us.' I told them that this will lead to a big change and will be a big help for us."
The Lynx management had a very candid conversation with Addie that opened her eyes to even more beyond her original concerns. While productive, that is where it ended. The Dream took it one step further and that step led to a wave of attention that Addie and the Lady Bulldogs had long been overdue to receive.
The Dream began by offering her their advice and guidance on how to handle the situation, but it did not end there. They were so inspired by Addie's passion that they also created an honor appropriately named "The Addie Award", designed to recognize one girls' basketball team each week to bring attention to successful high school girls' sports programs and promote girls' athletics, and announced it via a national press release. The Lady Bulldogs were its first recipient and nominations came in from all around the country soon thereafter. Now it was not just the Lady Bulldogs getting the recognition they deserved, but other girls' teams, as well.
When the news broke that a WBNA franchise recognized Addie's letter and put the Lady Bulldogs on a national pedestal, local media and the community latched on to the story and the team's success. The gym began to fill and the atmosphere for its games changed completely. Now it was mirroring the boys' games with primetime scheduling, pep bands and cheerleaders and continued into the team's postseason run.
"It was insane!" she exclaimed. "We played about an hour and a half away, and everyone came. Everyone came to our district game. The stands were packed. The students were there. There was so much support [the local media] even wrote an article on our student section because they were so involved and loud and proud."
And the fans of the Blue and White were along for the ride every step of the way. Even with a very short roster (just six players on the varsity squad), the Lady Bulldogs went on to win their conference, defeat their rival for the district championship and took a charter bus along the way to the regional championship round.
"We were having the best time ever and it was an all-around great way to end my [high school] career." Addie went on, "if there is anything that I have learned from all of this [is to] never doubt yourself, never put yourself down, and always believe in yourself. If you work hard and explore every outlet, if you're really passionate about something … good times will come from it."
That lesson proved useful in another area of her life and playing career.
THE SECOND HALF
Addie earned multiple awards for her play following her senior season, graduated near the top of her class and committed to play basketball at Capital under head coach Dixie Jeffers. As excited as Addie and Coach Jeffers were about her arrival on campus and the impact she'd have on the Crusaders' frontcourt, her career nearly ended before it began.
While playing basketball with friends the summer leading into her freshman year at Cap, Addie took a wrong step and felt something wrong in her knee. It was the feeling many athletes have come to recognize and she had a very similar reaction.
"No. No. No. No. No!"
She was able to walk off the court and drive home. The first diagnosis of her knee was a sprain, but after a few weeks of playing it still did not feel right and she noticed it had lost a lot of strength. A second opinion revealed the true nature of the injury: a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
With modern technology being what it is, Addie saw this as nothing more than a minor setback to her collegiate career, but even after the surgery and the rehab something still did not feel right.
While healing during the spring of 2017, another issue arose. She went back to the doctors and was told she had lost all the cartilage in her knee and was advised to have microfracture surgery on the same leg, a procedure not proven 100 percent effective, but quite possibly her best chance at fully healing and playing again.
Addie admitted that the prognosis was not as optimistic as she was hoping for. Following a second opinion and the mere words "it's not impossible for you to return," Addie had all the reason to get back to work. With the encouragement from her family, friends, teammates, coaches, and the Capital athletic trainers she had the support system necessary to push her the rest of the way.
She put in the work and those injuries were healed in order for her make a delayed return for her sophomore season. She played in three games early in the year, but pain began to emerge in her opposite leg which revealed a third piece of devastating news - that she had been nursing a stress fracture. A decision was then made to hold out of the remainder of the 2017-18 season in order to heal completely.
After three significant pieces of bad news and two surgeries in less than one year, nobody would have blamed her nor would it have been surprising to see Addie hang up her sneakers. Once the decision was made to get back to work and come back to the hardwood, that was it.
Coach Jeffers never doubted that Addie had what it took to not just heal but also get back to playing a role on the court for the Crusaders. "Addie is an incredibly bright, young woman who has special gifts and I knew that immediately when I first met her. She has an incredibly strong, positive attitude whether she was or was not able to practice. She taught me 'palms up for positivity' and when it comes to perseverance, work habits and being an inspiration, that is just who Addie is, every day."
BACK IN THE GAME
Addie has been gradually making her way back onto the court, but she has gotten to a point where she is not holding anything back. That was made clear when she went diving toward the sideline in pursuit of a loose ball against Marietta in early January. Though only averaging 4.8 minutes a game in 11 appearances, she says that she is physically healthier than she has been since her initial injury, but it's the mental gymnastics of convincing herself she is healthy that has been most difficult. Only with additional reps before and after practice and games has she reached the point that she is confident to play as she did during her magical senior year of high school.
"I just told myself that when you are passionate about something, when you believe in something, you should give it your all," said Addie. "You shouldn't give half of your effort. You should go as hard as you can for as long as you can."
It was the Atlanta Dream that taught her that in the first place, after all. Fitting, isn't it?
"I think having that experience just really helped me to see that anything is possible and that with all the amazing support and everything that I personally believe in plus my work ethic, I believe that really boosted me up to push me through all of this."
With one obstacle conquered, there is still work to be done. Addie recognizes that there are still inequities in the provisions and exposure between men's and women's athletics at the higher levels, primarily NCAA Division I and the professional ranks. Addie mentions that at Capital she is pleased to see that the treatment of men's and women's athletics is equitable between publicity, provisions and generally having the tools necessary to build and celebrate winning on and off the playing field.
She cites the differences between the WBNA and NBA, the U.S. National men's and women's soccer teams, or various power-five collegiate schools as great examples of where gaps still exist. Style of play is certainly a factor across sports, but it may all come down to increasing exposure.
"I think the biggest thing is the youth," said Addie. "Just exposing someone to the women's sport culture I think can open a lot of people's eyes. Give it a try. Turn on the WNBA. Watch the Women's Final Four. It was incredible this past year! Women's basketball and women's sports, in general, have so much to offer and they have the same great success stories and heart-touching stories."
She goes on to say that getting kids into sports when they are young will go a long way in terms of their investment in sports, and currently it heavily favors the boys. "Unless girls really play sports, they don't have an understanding or respect for them," said Addie. "Boys are just so much more invested but only want to see other boys play."
It is Addie's belief that an open mind will go a long way, not just in children but in the adults that grant the first point of contact to what sporting events the youth have a chance to see. She knows when she gets the opportunity to promote sports to kids, she'll surely show them men's sports - she does love the NBA after all - but will definitely mix in a healthy dose of women's sports or highlight women participating in co-ed and male-dominated sports to balance the scales.
Now a junior, Addie is not just a contributing member of the CU women's basketball team but also a 4.0 student studying English literature. While her ongoing battle with academics and future planning is no different than any other student, her experience in persevering is sure to land her in one of her fields of interest: attending law school or working in the non-profit sector, whichever path leads her to help others.
If you are really passionate about something, good times will come from it. Those were Addie's words and now it is her example.