Sophia Young: Shining the light of her stardom on the abused


Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.


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The hip-looking girls on Sophia Young’s website are all glammed up. Stylish hair. Perfect makeup. Just the right accessories. Each could pass for a teen model.

In truth, the girls do not live in a world of fashion. They live in a cabin outside San Antonio for victims of abuse and neglect. That’s the beauty of Sophia Young. In one day, she transformed the self esteem of a nearly a dozen young ladies. Young treated them to a shopping spree of clothes and makeup. Got them all dolled up. Paid for a fashion shoot with a professional photographer. Then gave each of them a portfolio.

"I never knew," one 14-year-old said, "I could look this beautiful."

On the Boerne campus of Roy Maas Youth Alternatives, Inc., they’re still talking about that photo shoot. The girls – 9 to 17-years-old – are waiting to be adopted or placed with a foster family. Some have been waiting for five years. All have experienced acute rejection -- one girl has been through 73 placements -- but for one day last year they felt accepted. Special.

"Sophia is such an inspiration," said Jennifer Sarias, director of volunteer services at the Roy Maas facility. "She didn't realize how big a deal it was until she heard their comments. When she took them shopping, they asked, 'Are you sure I can pick this? Are you sure I can pick that?' They got overwhelmed in the moment. It exceeded her expectations."

Silver Stars fans know Young as an All-WNBA forward. A gifted scorer with an unforgettable highlight -- a buzzer-beating shot against the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 2 of the 2008 Western Conference finals. Those in the community know Young for her compassion, for using her celebrity to touch youth in need.

Take the girls at Roy Maas. Young did not show up once and disappear. She spent 40 hours with the girls during the last off-season and plans to return. "They have so much potential," Young says. "They are worthy to be loved and accepted and to know they could be beneficial to the community."

Young devotes an entire page on her website to the alternative school in Boerne. She writes, "Roy Maas Alternative (s) INC is exactly the organization I have always dreamed of working for. It is a wonderful charity that is committed to helping kids ... have a better life."

Silver Stars' guard Helen Darling knows Young better than most. "She is very passionate about disadvantaged kids," Darling says. "She's driven to help the less fortunate. She had a blast with that photo shoot. That's all she talked about. She showed the girls what life can be like by going to school."

Young's goodwill did not begin in the WNBA. She became a youth camp volunteer while attending Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La. At Baylor, she began sponsoring a pre-teen boy in Rwanda. She continues that sponsorship today -- writing the boy letters and sending him regular financial gifts. After she retires, Young wants to open a shelter for abused girls.

"She is one of our treasures," says Silver Stars general manager Dan Hughes. "She cares about being more than a basketball player. She wants to use her celebrity to help others. There is a vibrance, an energy about her that is infectious."

Hughes recognized Young's compassion immediately. After the 2006 WNBA Draft, Young told Hughes: I'd like to help the homeless.

With one hand, Young has lifted the needy. With the other, she has lifted the Stars. Before Young arrived, the team endured three losing seasons. After her rookie year, the Stars have enjoyed three consecutive playoff berths. All-Star guard Becky Hammon played a big role in the team's transformation. So did Darling, Ruth Riley and the recently retired Vickie Johnson. Young, however, is the athletic catalyst who can deliver in the clutch.

Hughes cites her game-winning shot against Los Angeles as a defining moment. "Her desire for the ball is incredibly strong" says Hughes, who coached Young for four seasons. "Not a lot of players would want that on their shoulders."

Young doesn't think about that shot much. She thinks about the future -- especially with the arrival of Chamique Holdsclaw -- and helping the Silver Stars win their first championship. Her thoughts also turn to the girls at Roy Maas. "They are stronger than a lot of us," Young says.

She befriended one 17-year-old who shared a wrenching story. One brother died. A second brother joined a gang. And the girl herself bounced from one home to another -- 73 in all -- and battled drugs. Young listened, offered encouragement and stayed in touch.

Almost one year later ...

Good news.

"She never thought she could finish school but she did finish at Roy Maas," Young says. "I just talked to her yesterday. She's decided to start college."

Young won't take much credit, but she did what she could. She opened her arms to a girl in the shadows of rejection -- and gave her a little light.