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Women in the Game

Impact of USAB’s Women in the Game Event Reaches Atlanta Area

  • Author:
    Richard Martin, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Oct 16, 2019

Spirits were high inside the Paideia School theater in downtown Atlanta as a solid crowd gathered to listen to speakers at the USA Basketball Women in the Game Conference on Oct. 12-13.

In its second year in 2019, the USA Basketball Women in the Game initiative exposes high school girls, college women and emerging professionals to career paths in the sports industry to help develop and prepare the next generation of female leaders in sport.

Women in the Game attendees were able to absorb knowledge from more than a dozen professional women in the sports world, including Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. Roberts said she is grateful she was able to speak at the event, an opportunity she wished she had growing up.

“Even though women can dream about where they want to be professionally, there’s something to be said about seeing someone who looks like you that’s doing it,” Roberts said.

“When you have a chance to sit in a room and hear women talk about it, what seemed improbable is now possible. There is living proof that it is possible.”

Attendees of the two-day conference were treated to guest speakers from groups such as the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, as well as USA Basketball and WNBA players Rebecca Greenwell and Renee Montgomery.

Each speaker shared what it was like for them getting into their occupation and the challenges that they faced as a woman. For Christina Walker, a senior varsity basketball player at the Paideia School, it was an eye-opening event.

“I’ve learned how there are different roles that people have to take to make the game of basketball happen,” Walker said. “There’s a logistical side that occurs before every game, and people need to know their roles and use them to the best of their abilities to make it all work.”

Saturday’s Women in the Game session included speakers Narcis Alikhani (Atlanta Hawks & State Farm Arena senior manager, marketing strategy), Danielle Donehew (WBCA executive director), Dr. Kensa K. Gunter (clinical sports psychologist), Ericka Hill (Atlanta Hawks director of player development), Lauren Holtkamp (NBA official), Nancy Lieberman (Big3 Team Power head coach, former NBA assistant coach, FIBA World Cup gold medalists and Olympic silver medalist), Mary McElroy (ACC women’s basketball senior associate commissioner), Kirsten “KK” Salmonsen (Atlanta Hawks brand activation & events manager) and Pharlone Toussaint (Audacity LLC & Laureus Sport for Good USA).

Sunday’s session opened with a networking breakfast, in which all the attendees got to know each other and look at the displays of jerseys and photographs of star women’s national team basketball players and coaches, such as Tamika Catchings, Elena Delle Donne and Dawn Staley.

Michelle Leftwich, vice president of salary cap administration for the NBA Atlanta Hawks, opened the proceedings talking about how she rose through the ranks first of her law firm and then the NBA.

“Speaking up and asking for more challenges helped me move through the ranks,” Leftwich said. “Sometimes success comes when opportunity meets preparation.”

Leftwich also spoke on how, just because she was not a basketball player, that didn’t mean she couldn’t succeed in the professional basketball world. This idea stuck with attendee Regina Sarrubo.

“My biggest regret was walking away from basketball in college,” Sarrubo said. “But now I’ve gotten back into coaching and after this weekend, I’m really excited to use what I’ve learned back home.”

Nell Fortner, the head coach of the Georgia Tech women’s team who also led the 2000 U.S. Olympic Women’s Team to a gold medal, talked about her ladder of success, and how she set goals for herself and continues to do so today.

“My goal was to be the head coach of the Olympic team,” Fortner said. “I had no experience as a head coach, but I went out and set that goal for myself and did it. Now my goal at Georgia Tech is to win the national championship.

“So, I encourage you to set goals. Set goals that you are passionate about, that you believe in, and don’t be afraid to share them with somebody.”

Before a Q&A panel that featured Greenwell and Montgomery (Atlanta Dream), Joni Taylor, (University of Georgia women’s basketball head coach) and Corinne Millen (Winning Edge Leadership Academy), Roberts spoke at length on her career as the executive director of the NBPA, and why being a woman doesn’t deter her career.

“The fair questions were that I didn’t play basketball and that I didn’t know anything about unions when I started,” Roberts said. “But to those who questioned me just because I am a woman, I used them as motivation, and I was not going to let them negatively impact me on how I do my job.”

The women on the various panels had different backgrounds and occupations. Roberts said she believes the differences in the paths taken and women shown this weekend will help those who attended.

“Begin talking to women and understand the paths they’ve taken,” Roberts said. “There’s no cookie cutter approach to this. The benefit of talking to different women about their own journeys gives you an idea on how you want to start your own journey.”


Richard Martin is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.



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  • Author:
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  • Date:
    Mar 28, 2022

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