Hoops star shares ‘inspirational’ message

Former Colt Kelsey Griffin returns to her old stomping grounds


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Former Gruening Middle School student Kelsey Griffin, who plays for the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA, signs autographs during a visit to her former school on Sept. 30. Griffin spoke about the importance of education and told students how she overcame teasing in school by focusing on the things she liked to do most.

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Middle school isn’t easy for anyone — even pro athletes.

When professional basketball player Kelsey Griffin roamed the halls of Gruening Middle School, she wore plain clothes, went without make-up and stood taller than most of the boys in her class.

“Middle school was really hard for me,” Griffin told a couple hundred Gruening Colts on Sept. 30 in the school’s gym.

But while the constant battle to fit in was difficult, Griffin said her years as a seventh- and eighth-grader at the Eagle River middle school helped her learn lessons that have served her well in life.

“One thing I really figured out was I needed to surround myself with people who liked me for who I was, not how I dressed or what I looked like,” said Griffin, who recently completed her second season with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

Griffin stopped at her old middle school while on a rare week-long return home to visit her family and friends in Eagle River before heading to Europe to play more basketball. Her main messages to the kids: work hard and believe in yourself. Griffin said that once she learned to have confidence in what she liked to do — in her case, play sports — she stopped having to worry about what people said about her. She urged her fellow Colts to do what they like and don't worry about what others think.

“It doesn't matter what anybody says, because you know that’s what makes you happy and that’s what you’re good at,” she told the students.

Before speaking to the students, Griffin shared her winter plans, which include working out in France and trying to hook on with a pro team in Europe. Last year Griffin played in Hungary, and she said many WNBA players travel overseas when the U.S. league’s season ends in the fall.

“It’s kind of the norm now,” she said.

Griffin said she’s thankful that playing basketball has allowed her to make a career for herself that lets her travel the world.

“Basketball is really worldwide,” she said.

Griffin was a three-time first-team all-state player at Chugiak before going to the University of Nebraska, where as a senior she was a first-team All-American. She was drafted No. 3 in the WNBA draft and made the all-rookie team two seasons ago.

Being back home, she said, is a nice change of pace from the world of professional athletics.

“I’ll run into the occasional fan here, but it’s like a fan of mine from when I was four years old,” she said.

In addition to telling the students to trust in themselves, Griffin also stressed the value of getting a good education. An academic All-American at Nebraska, Griffin said that her schoolwork always came before basketball because she knew she’d need an education long after her playing days were through.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to get an education,” she said.

Griffin said she hopes to pursue a career in medicine after her basketball career. She told the students that one advantage to studying hard is that, eventually, they’ll find out what subjects are most appealing.

“The more education you get, the more classes you get to choose that you really like,” she said.

After her speech, Griffin stuck around between classes to snap photos with and sign autographs for dozens of admiring Colts. One who got an autograph was eighth grader Shawntel Hargrove, who was beaming after receiving an autograph from Griffin. Although she prefers volleyball to basketball, Hargrove said Griffin's inspirational words will help motivate her to do better in sports and school.

“I thought she was inspiring,” Hargrove said.

And, Hargrove said, it was “cool” to know that someone could make it from Gruening to the height of professional sports.

“It makes me feel like I’m going to a famous school,” she said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

 

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