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‘I was able through basketball to access a kind of network that I don’t know if I would have had access to’

Tiffany played basketball from the time that she was 9 to a career as a professional.
Tiffany played basketball from the time that she was 9 to a career as a professional.

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Tiffany Kyser is a Ph.D. candidate studying Urban Education at the IUPUI School of Education, and an assistant director at the Great Lakes Equity Center. She has taught in Indianapolis Public Schools and Wayne Township, and she was once a professional basketball player. We met up with her this week at IUPUI. As a child, she went to schools in Warren and Perry townships, Indianapolis Public Schools and Culver Girls Academy. Here’s her story:

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in Center Township. I went to four elementary schools between kindergarten and fourth grade, so almost every year moving some place different. Even though in some ways I was a wallflower and kind of a quirky kid, I think I was also relatively tough in the sense that I was accustomed to sort of a level of transience.

I started playing basketball when I was 9 at the basketball courts of School 113. As I kid, I was sort of like, “this looks interesting and I’m going to try it.” But I think also some of it was pushing the boundary of what I was expected to do as a girl. And then I just fell in love with the sport.

My first team was at Tabernacle. It’s a huge league in downtown. From there, I was picked up on a kind of traveling team. My father passed away when I was 12 in a car accident. I think my drive to be a good student-athlete was already there. But I think it was a way that you can channel your mourning, your grief in a positive way.

I was able through basketball to access a kind of network that I don’t know if I would have had access to. And I think a combination of my desire to be pushed academically and position myself athletically to play a professional sport, I went to a private high school in Northern Indiana, in Culver, Ind. It’s a private boarding, college preparatory high school.

In high school, this (national professional basketball) league called the WNBA started. But at that time, my goal was always to go abroad because at that time women couldn’t play professionally in this country. So I signed a basketball scholarship here at IUPUI, and I played here for 4 years. I got a degree, a bachelors of science in education, and went abroad and played professionally.

It was amazing. I played in Greece for a year. And then I took a trade, and I played in the NWBL, which was sort of a small pro-league that fed into the WNBA. I played for a team called Springfield Spirit in Springfield, Mass.. And then played as a free agent for the Connecticut Sun (in the WNBA). The team was stocked, so I didn’t get a lot of playing time and was eventually cut. Then I played sort of travel leagues where you kind of do exhibition games for universities. Then I said, you know, I think I’m tired of living out of two suitcases.

My next goal is to be a teacher. I started working as an outreach educator for Girls Inc. And then I subbed for a year in Indianapolis Public Schools and taught kindergarteners one day and seniors the next day. I wanted to try everything out. I ended up teaching in Wayne Township on the Westside of the city, English Language Arts for 7th and 8th grade. I did that for a few years.

I came from a poor working-class tradition and there were adults who were very supportive of me, and who valued me. Some of that had to do with me wanting to teach.

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