Liberty pros to youth: Free your greatness

From left, Kym Hampton, Carolyn Swords, Sue Wicks and Kiah Stokes at Passannante Playground with G.V.Y.C. Photos by James Kwitny

BY JOEY ZANNINO | Last week, current and former players from the WNBA’s New York Liberty came down to Greenwich Village’s William F. Passannante Ball Field to meet with a group of youth for an afternoon of women’s empowerment. The event was part of the Greenwich Village Youth Council’s annual W. Fourth St. Summer Basketball Tournament.

What began as a shoot-around with a former international basketball superstar turned into a panel of powerful messages delivered by a group of women that have all played professional basketball both internationally and in the WNBA. Kym Hampton, Carolyn Swords, Sue Wicks and Kiah Stokes are all either current or former players for the Liberty.

The four women visited the Downtown park on a sunny afternoon to deliver a message that instilled confidence and ignited passion in the audience of young women, mostly basketball players themselves.

All four panelists were college graduates and encouraged everyone to work toward their degree.

Swords, who plays center for the Liberty, graduated from Boston College.

“College is important because you can’t play basketball forever,” she told the girls. “College is where you learn how to think and find out who you are. It’s a really special and unique time.”

Current New York Liberty superstars Kiah Stokes, in foreground, and Carolyn Swords signing autographs at the G.V.Y.C. event.

The panel also spoke about individual identity and how women need to work together to bring each other up.

“We are made to be excellent, made to excel, to really be glorious,” said Wicks. “Not just good, but glorious. I think that’s what we have to aspire to. Be glorious. Find something that sets you on fire, and if you do that, it sets the people around you on fire and makes them inspired, too. Seek greatness because that’s what inside of you.”

Wicks, a four-time All-American at Rutgers University, played for the Liberty for six years — including the team’s inaugural season in 1997 —after competing internationally for nine years.

Liberty star Stokes elaborated on the effort required to achieve that greatness, adding, “You’re not as good as you think you are if you don’t put in the work.”

Hampton, who led the panel, played pro ball 12 years in Europe, speaks many languages, and played three seasons with the Liberty, also during the inaugural season.

“We were created as individuals and a lot of times we judge ourselves based on other people,” Hampton told the young women. “We were created to be different and created to shine. Stop dimming your light because others can’t handle your shine.”

G.V.Y.C. is a youth-serving agency that has been empowering young people in New York City since its founding in 1969 by John Pettinato, its executive director, and runs the tournament annually.

“This event with the Liberty was special because it went beyond the game of basketball and focused on female empowerment,” Pettinato said. For more information on the Greenwich Village Youth Council, visit https://www.gvyc.net .