Back To The Beginning
Nov. 18, 2013
When Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, head coach of the USC women's basketball team, first stepped into the gymnasium at Samuel Gompers Middle School in Watts, Calif., she noticed a faded basketball rolled up against the far wall. She walked across the hard-wood, picked it up, and moved to the nearest free-throw line. With a deep breath and a dribble, she lobbed up a shot, and missed.
On November 15, the USC women's basketball team stood in a brand new building on Gompers' campus, 40 years after that missed free throw. They had come to speak to local children at the dedication of the Cynthia Cooper College and Career Center, a beacon of hope for kids in one of Los Angeles' most impoverished neighborhoods, named after their school's most accomplished graduate.
"When I was in middle school, I saw a girl put the ball behind her back in this gym, on this campus, and make a layup. She's the one who sparked my interest in basketball," said Cooper-Dyke, now considered one of the top female basketball players of all-time. "And then I grabbed the ball."
The team visited as part of the Community Outreach Program's brand new S.C.O.R.E. Initiative (Serving Community through Outreach, Recreation, and Education), which has paired all 21 USC teams with a local school as ongoing mentors.
To christen the new building, the Women of Troy took turns discussing the four parts of the SCORE message with Gompers students: Academic Discipline, Physical Health, Teamwork, and Community Responsibility. The children listened attentively and teachers applauded with each new piece of advice. Brianna Barrett spoke about showing team support, Destinie Gibbs talked about the importance of choosing good company, and Courtney Jaco prompted the kids to become leaders.
Growing up in Watts as one of eight children, Cooper-Dyke learned the value of education and perseverance in the face of hardship. "We want to be mentors for these kids, and show kids what a little perseverance and a little hard work can do," said Cooper-Dyke. As an NCAA Champion and WNBA Hall-of-Famer, coach knows the value of the SCORE virtues.
Despite what most would deem a late start in the game of basketball, Cooper-Dyke went on to excel in high school and college athletics earning herself numerous accolades. During her time as a Trojan student-athlete, Cooper-Dyke helped lead the team in back-to-back NCAA Championships. Following a successful collegiate career, she went on to win an Olympic gold medal and four WNBA titles. Coach Cooper-Dyke moved on to earn three Coach of the Year honors for her help in resurrecting three collegiate women's basketball programs.
After a bit of fun in that historic gym, the team said goodbye to their newest fans, but not for the last time. As is typical of SCORE, the athletes will stay engaged with Gompers all season, hosting them at a game at the Galen Center and returning periodically to reinforce life lessons. Coach Cooper-Dyke's story is one of hope and her message to the kids of Gompers Middle School will surely leave a lasting impression.
Administrators at the university have been quick to recognize the importance of this type of work. "The SCORE Initiative reflects USC's passionate investment in its surrounding communities, as well as the exceptional dedication of its student-athletes, who continue to serve as positive role models while helping children realize their own potential," USC President C. L. Max Nikias said.
Through the men's basketball team's recent visit to 99th Street Elementary, the soccer team's partnership with the Hoover Recreation Center, the baseball team's relationship with Best Buddies, the SCORE Initiative has just scratched the surface of its potential. But with five teams scheduled to make visits this month, the Trojans are bent on discovering how vast that potential can be.