Orlando Magic Youth Basketball Academy Host "Her Time to Play" All-Girls Youth Clinic

by Josh Cohen
ORLANDO - Inspired by her favorite players, including four-time WNBA champion Maya Moore, M’lani Vitela fell in love with basketball at an early age. Now 13 and a ninth grader at Lake Nona High School in Orlando, the hoops enthusiast is motivated to work hard, not just on the court but in other aspects of life too, every time she watches them play.

On Saturday, Sept. 14 during the Orlando Magic Youth Basketball Academy’s first ever “Her Time to Play” all-girls clinic, Vitela was able to display that hard work while picking up a few basketball pointers from some of Orlando’s brightest coaches.

“It was a good experience,” she said. “It feels good because a lot of people think basketball is like a boy sport and then to see a whole bunch of girls getting together to play, it just makes the environment more fun. If you want to play something like football, basketball, anything and you’re a girl, nobody can tell you you can’t make it.”

Another camper who had a great experience was Arianna Viera, a seventh grader at Liberty Middle School whose dream is to one day make it to the WNBA.

“I really like the sport,” said the 12-year-old, whose favorite players include LeBron James, Mo Bamba and Candace Parker. “I just came here to get better. When I was little, I would always (have a ball in my hands) and throw it off the wall.”

After rotating through various skills and drills stations, Vitela, Viera and the other campers learned about the sports and broadcasting industry from NBA TV host and TNT sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow and Magic in-game host Cori Yarckin during a Q&A session.

Both are grateful to be in a position where they can help encourage girls to play basketball and get involved in sports in general.

“One of the coolest things I think about working with the NBA is that it’s by far and away the most progressive, the most inclusive professional league in all of sports,” Ledlow said. "So for my favorite team, the team that my cat (Magic) is named after, to be hosting a camp that young girls like I once was growing up in and around the Orlando area be given the opportunity to come and not only learn the game but fall in love with the game the way that I did, it’s not just a game-changing initiative, it could be a life-altering one as well.”

“Sports in general teaches everyone so many lessons, not just the athletic side of it,” Yarckin added. “From sports you learn teamwork and you learn discipline and you learn hard work and all these things in your life. There are so many opportunities for young girls to be involved in sports and to grab those life lessons out of that is so important.”

The NBA and WNBA started “Her Time to Play” in hopes of increasing female youth basketball participation while providing them with female mentors who can teach them about the importance of hard work, teamwork and leadership.

One of those mentors is Diane Jack, a former UCF basketball player who grew up in Titusville and has been coaching at Magic youth camps since 2007. Impressed by how passionate each of the girls at the camp are about the sport and how hard they worked, Jack is confident this experience will help them, not just on the hardwood but in the classroom and in other areas of their lives.

“Mentoring is huge. There is so much going on with social media and watching these unrealistic expectations of what a woman should be. And so to have somebody that says, ‘hey, no you’re perfect just the way you are and you’re awesome, and you’re smart, and you’re talented, and you can do these great things,’ is huge,” Jack said. “I use my coaching as a platform to mentor.”

The Magic gave away their 30,000th Magic basketball in the community at the conclusion of the camp with the goal of distributing 100,000 Magic basketballs to the youth of Central Florida through various clinics and community events by 2021-22.

As part of the Magic’s continuing commitment to the youth of Central Florida, the team unveiled the Orlando Magic Youth Basketball Academy in 2016. The Magic Academy helps kids sharpen up their basketball skills while teaching them about the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and health and wellness to accomplish their goals.

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