The glory days of playing professional basketball may be over, but Lydia McAliley’s passion for the game still runs hot.
Growing up in Philadelphia, McAliley played in the city’s Hunting Park neighborhood. One of 12 children, she realized she had talent while playing pick-up basketball games with her brothers, Butch, Larry, Charles, Tim and John. She practiced harder and developed stronger skills as a player.
“That was my outlet,” McAliley said. “That was something that gave me a positive [outlook].”
She got game
Standing 6’1”, McAiley played forward at Olney High School and was known as a good rebounder and defender around the basket. After graduating, McAliley went on to play for the University of Maryland women’s basketball team in College Park from 1979 – 1983. During her years on the team, the Lady Terapins were ranked in the top ten and were crowned Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament champions several times. McAliley was drafted by the Columbus Links in the Women’s American Basketball Association
(WABA), and played with the team before the league folded in 1984.
Her fame did not rise high in the financially-stricken WABA, but McAliley
credits former teachers and coaches in supporting her in her early years. Some
of the mentors who guided her were Jane Bernhart, a former recreation center
coordinator, Coach Oliva Thompson, and Lydia Moragne, a public school teacher.
“My mentors made a great deal to me,” said McAliley. “They supported me in a
lot ways by making sure I got to and from my games.”
Getting support from her father, Warren McAliley, was bit tougher. The elder
McAliley was skeptical and doubted that she was serious about playing
basketball. But after seeing his daughter’s leadership skills, he changed his mind.
Facing resistance and pushing through
Parents can be a hard sell – as Little League pitcher Mo’ne Davis also discovered.
Davis made history when she became the first female pitcher to win a Little
League World Series game. In March, Davis released a memoir titled Mo’ne
Davis: Remember My Name (HarperCollins, 2015). Davis said that her mother
wasn’t exactly thrilled when she joined an aggressive sport. “When I joined an
all-boys baseball team, my mom wasn’t too happy,” Davis said in a HarperCollins
statement last year. “I proved to her (and to me) that I could do anything I set my
mind to. I’m just a girl that likes to play sports.”
There may be decades in between them but Davis and McAlily both understand
what it’s like to simply have a love for the game. As for McAliley, these days she
shuffles her time between work as a home health aide and coaching girls’
basketball and girls track at her church, the Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ,
in Philadelphia. McAliley, who now enjoys opportunities to watch her own
13-year-old son, Lakeem play basketball, track, football, and baseball, also
had a stint coaching for one of the Little Sixers Basketball Day Camps.
To encourage other youth who want to pursue their dreams, McAliley gave
the following advice: “Put God first, stay focused, have a routine, and make
a plan. Follow your plan and don’t let nothing discourage you. You may
have roadblocks around the way but if you set your mind to it, and prepare
for it, before you know it, you’ll reach your goal.”