Take a 30-minute stroll around New York City and you’re more than likely to come across at least a handful of basketball playgrounds occupied by all kinds of people. Well — most kinds. For as many races, cultures and skill levels that are represented among the people gracing New York City’s basketball courts, women are significantly underrepresented, and often not represented at all. It’s not because women aren’t interested in enjoying a game of casual pickup; it’s because we miss the mark, by a wide margin, in providing women with equitable outlets to play sports recreationally. Amber Batchelor and her nonprofit organization, Ladies Who Hoop, are intent on filling that void.
Ladies Who Hoop strives to cultivate community and empowerment for women through the game of basketball. They host open runs biweekly in various locations across the city, where women are welcome to play or just watch for a couple of hours. The organization’s presence has been consistently expanding over the past few years, thus promoting the sport as a whole. “You get to know women who are looking to play basketball and you make friends,” says Paige Brigham, a 26-year-old attendee, originally from Vermont. “With that, there’s a chance to start more pickups outside of this organization.,” she says.
At the heart of Ladies Who Hoop is a commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive environment for women of all backgrounds to come together through their shared love of basketball. By providing recreational basketball opportunities, they encourage women to pursue their passion for playing the sport while fostering camaraderie and lasting friendships. Ladies Who Hoop facilitates an environment where women can gather, learn and grow together; it is creating a legacy that extends far beyond the bounds of the basketball court. “Not only are we a community of women who identify in different ways, we’re also here supporting each other in businesses, networking and mental health,” says Brittany Herbott, 32, who has been playing with Ladies Who Hoop for about a year and now handles many of their administrative duties.
“My favorite thing about Ladies Who Hoop has to be the community,” says Daija Green, a 26-year-old who’s been attending Ladies Who Hoop since 2016. “We’re like a family — you can’t find too many places where you can not only hoop, but feel like you’re playing with your sisters.” Seven years ago, Green had just come back from college and was yearning for a group of women she could get involved with. “I came back from school, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know where to go,” she says. “Then I saw this online and I tapped in. Ever since then, it’s been like family.”
The variety of women who attend Ladies Who Hoop is broad. Some are in their early 20s, while others are in their 70s. Some have experience playing semi-professionally, while others have little experience playing competitively at all. No matter where a woman falls on the spectrum, the opportunities to have a fulfilling night of pickup with Ladies Who Hoop are plentiful. “We have the young age and we have the OGs,” says Herbott. “It’s a wide spectrum of religion, money status… it’s definitely a strong community.”
For some, Ladies Who Hoop provides a space for women to clear their minds and be free of everyday pressures. Shamar Stewartson, 35, works in social services with families who have engaged with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). She also has volunteered at Bowery Mission for the past seven years. Her days often consist of listening to trauma-filled stories and helping those in need. In many regards, Ladies Who Hoop is an escape. “When I’m playing basketball and I’m on that court, I forget about everything — it’s like my stress reliever,” she says. At 4 feet 11 inches tall, Stewartson is a feisty, tough-minded guard who played for Hunter College and has been playing with Ladies Who Hoop for almost 10 years.
“The most consistent program [for women’s recreational basketball] over the past 10 years has been Ladies Who Hoop,” says Stewartson. “You have other places that try to charge you to play ball. We pay our taxes, we should have access to gyms.” Echoing the sentiment shared by many of the women who play with Ladies Who Hoop, she says the nonprofit has allowed her to meet women from different walks of life.
“My favorite part is… it’s a safe space,” says Stewartson. “You have somewhere to come to, and there’s no discrimination here. And like I said, it’s been the only program that’s consistently been around for women.”