A Lesson From The Cookie Jar

“Reach into that cookie jar! Snap that wrist and curve those fingers like you mean it — these are Mega Stuff Oreos you’re trying to grab!”

When I spoke these words last month, I was not — in fact — giving a pep talk to professional dessert-grabbers at a Nabisco conference. Rather, I was channeling the metaphors of my elementary basketball coach and offering a shooting lesson to the early arrivers at a Game Day in West Englewood. The recipient of my cookie-inspired athletic advice was Veyonce, a tiny seventh grader with a ribbon-sprinkled braid nearly as long as she was tall.

After watching my demonstration, Veyonce prepared to take her first shot. She bent her knees, took a deep breath and thrust the ball toward the backboard. Four hopeful eyeballs watched as the leathery orange blur sailed through the air…then grazed the lowest-hanging fringes of the net and dropped to the hardwood floor.

As the ball made its lazy escape to the sidelines, Veyonce blinked at me hopefully, as if asking, “Like that?”

“Not bad for the first time!” I said. “Keep that cookie jar form and use a little more leg power, and you’ll be ready for the WNBA in no time.”

Girls learning how to shoot a basketball at Summer Camp.

Admittedly, as I walked away I was wondering how many missed shots it would take before Veyonce would give up and join her hula hooping friends. In my experience with kids (and anyone, actually), they don’t really like to do things that they’re not immediately good at. The tenth graders that I student taught at Fargo South High School last spring would spend about five minutes trying to decipher Shakespeare’s language in Julius Caesar before turning to Spark Notes. My sister tried parallel parking outside of a Chipotle exactly once before declaring that only restaurants with parking lots were worth eating at. Heck, even I find myself barely reaching a mile on the treadmill before deciding I can wait until 2018 to “become a runner.”

But Veyonce was different. During every single bathroom break, water break and snack break that we took, while her friends raced to the bleachers to respond to Snapchats, she grabbed a ball and reported dutifully to her shooting spot beneath the basket. Though she was literally leaping off the ground to maximize her power, the ball refused to land in the net. But each time she missed a shot, she would retrieve the disobedient ball and try again.

We were taking our last water break of the day when I heard rapidly approaching tennis shoes and felt a tug on my wrist. Looking down I saw Veyonce, eyes shining, rosy cheeks beaming and literally bouncing up and down.

“Coach Callie! Coach Callie! I did it — I made a basketball shot!”

Though I’ve coached hundreds of young ladies through Girls in the Game, Veyonce is someone that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Her story is a textbook example of demonstrating GRIT (Girls in the Game lingo for perseverance or determination). On the basketball skills spectrum, Veyonce began the day as opposite to Steph Curry as one could be. But she rebounded her missed baskets. She kept shooting. She persevered.

And Veyonce’s reminder that people-especially girls- can use their determination to accomplish even the most seemingly unachievable of goals is maybe, just maybe, even sweeter than Oreo cookies.

Callie Rodenbiker is a Citywide Initiatives Coordinator at Girls in the Game