ONE VOICE: DAVINA WARD The Kindness of Strangers

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" - Tennessee Williams

My life was never really about basketball and I am not sure anyone, including myself, ever saw it becoming such a fundamental part of my life.

I was born in Yonkers to Bonnie and Woodrow. I had numerous half-siblings and remember seeing the inside of several foster homes before I turned five when we were removed from my parents and placed into foster care more permanently. Child Protective Services cited neglect among other things.

My older sister and I were placed in the care of Ms. Harris, an older black woman from the South who worked as a nurse. My sister and I were lucky. There are seemingly endless horror stories of foster care abuse at the hands of people looking to make money by taking advantage of children in need. Ms. Harris genuinely loved my sister and me. She doted on us. Wanted to adopt us. She raised us for the next five years.

Now, bear with me. The story gets a bit confusing.

In an unfortunate turn of events, my father was granted custody of my siblings and me again.

It lasted a year and a half.

After my father made it clear that the home he provided was once again unsafe and abusive, we moved from Yonkers to Buffalo to be with my older half-sister. But she effectively abandoned me along with her own children some time later.

However, her ex-fiancé, Mike, stepped in and decided I would be better off living with him, along with my nieces and nephew. Soon after I turned 13, Mike became my legal guardian and I moved in with my new family permanently. He had married Deidra and our family grew even larger after they had two more children.

Background: Me and Ms. Harris. Above: 7 year-old me

My family loves basketball. Mike grew up playing with his father and two brothers and went on to play in college. Most of our bonding when I was younger centered on our mutual love for the game, that is, after I learned to love it too (I actually played softball and soccer first). I had always been tall, but was never inclined to play basketball, even though everyone always assumed that I did.

When I got to high school, I felt like it was important to continue the family tradition. The first year I played wasn’t great. My school was tiny and brand new (my class was the first to graduate) and our team was a motley crew that mostly consisted of anyone we could get to play. I don’t recall winning a game.

Sometime after that first season, I watched a video of Larry Bird highlights, and it lit a fire. I wanted to be like him! (Minus the trash-talk of course!) I also spent the following summer playing basketball at my local park with men who made it their mission to turn this scrawny teenager into a “real baller.”

My high school coach Molly Brewer became a mentor to me both on and off the court. She used to drive me home after games and practices so I wouldn’t have to walk or take the bus. By my senior year, I was averaging a double-double and a local college even began recruiting me. However, I was going to graduate as our class salutatorian and decided my college pursuits should have more of an academic focus. I decided to take my chances at a school in the middle of nowhere called Geneseo.

2011 Global Concepts Charter School Girls Basketball Team

As soon as I stepped on campus, I sought out the women’s basketball coach Scott Hemer to tell him I wanted to try out.

I have a tendency to mumble when I get nervous. As I walked into the team locker room for the first time to introduce myself, I believe the exact words I rushed through were “HimynameisDavinabutyoucancallme Dream.”

“Davina the Dream” was just something silly a couple of my high school teachers called me in reference to my head always being in the clouds. It was also a play on basketball legend Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. Not that I played anything like him at all.

Dream was pretty much all anyone heard that day and the nickname stuck. Coach Hemer was kind and welcoming, as were the girls who immediately made me feel like I was part of the team and would become my closest friends.

"I have a tendency to mumble when I get nervous. As I walked into the team locker room for the first time to introduce myself, I believe the exact words I rushed through were “HimynameisDavinabutyoucancallme Dream.”

As I tried out, it was very clear that I was lacking what it took to play at Geneseo’s level. Take one look at the team’s record since Coach Hemer took over and it becomes clear that the level of skill expected of the players in the program is way above standard.

Even though I didn’t make the team, Coach Hemer asked if I’d like to be the team’s manager. I figured, if I worked harder, I would try out again the next year and make it. I accepted and thus began my collegiate basketball journey. I was there for all the important moments that first season, including the team’s conference championship and NCAA Tournament run. It was amazing.

2015 SUNYAC Champion Geneseo Women's Basketball

I tried out again the following year but didn’t make it. Through it all, I couldn’t feel any ill will because I respected Coach Hemer’s decision and knew he was right about me. He was right about the player I was. But he was also right about me being one heck of a manager.

I considered the team to be my second family and the feeling was mutual. It felt amazing to be a part of something so much bigger than just myself. I didn’t have many friends growing up, but now I had people to go to lunch with, to sit with at the library, to play basketball with out of season. Parents of the players on the team always asked me how I was doing, invited me out to dinner and even thought to give me something for Valentine’s Day. Tragedy made it even clearer that these girls were like my sisters. Losing two of them in less than a year caused an indescribable pain that brought us all even closer. The team is truly a family.

I decided to try out again my junior year, but halfway through preseason, I realized that my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t have to prove myself anymore by putting on a jersey. I had gotten so much without being a player. So I shelved that dream.

I was happy being manager and the next two years flew by. When the final week of the regular season rolled around this past winter, I was looking forward to standing alongside Sam Barry on Senior Day as we had been through this whole journey together. Then, out of nowhere, Coach Hemer asked me if I would be interested in dressing for the game. I hesitated. I was nervous and completely thrown by the opportunity to finally live my dream.

I am roommates with the other six upperclassmen on the team. When I went home that night and told them coach asked if I wanted to dress, as soon as the words left my mouth they began clapping and laughing and saying things like, “Oh my gosh, Dream! I’m so excited!”

When I told them I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, they immediately asked why before telling me that I was definitely going to do it.

Then I called Mike and I could tell he was excited about the opportunity. He told me that it was an extremely kind gesture and, as long as I was comfortable, I should do it. I agreed and the next morning I texted Coach Hemer and told him I would dress.

That Saturday, I walked in the locker room, which had been decorated for Senior Day. There on the jersey rack was uniform number 44, just waiting for me. As soon as I had it on, every one of my teammates wanted to take a picture with me. They didn’t want to miss this moment that I had been waiting for. I could tell they were insanely happy for me, and I felt the same way. I was euphoric.

So euphoric that I screwed up during the pre-game warm-up.

I sat down on the bench with my board to track our player minutes, just as I had for every other game before. Coach Hemer said I didn’t have to take them this time, but I told him I was a manager first.

During the last minute of the game, Coach Hemer put me in and even drew up an in-bound play for me to score. He explained it once during the huddle, and then for a second time because I’m sure he saw the confused look on my face, as he knows it well enough.

I finished with one rebound and one missed wide-open lay-up, but that was probably because I could not stop smiling. I have seen a few pictures of myself on the court with a huge, goofy smile on my face.

After the game, I got texts and replies on social media congratulating me from every single player that I had “managed.” It was such an amazing experience that I will carry with me the rest of my life.

I, Davina “Dream” Ward had finally lived my dream of playing in a college basketball game. I had gotten to play with my best friends on the greatest team in the world. That will always be more than enough.

Created By
Davina Ward


Photos by Keith Walters. Others furnished by Davina Ward and Lea Sobieraski.

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