WNBA continues to make a difference in communities

Updated: July 15, 2007, 9:14 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's not so easy getting a cab out to the Richard England Boys and Girls Club. At least it wasn't Saturday afternoon. Three cabbies said they never heard of it and weren't sure how to get there. A fourth finally took the fare, grumbling, "They know where it is; they just don't want to go there."

It's one of those trips that doesn't pay off well for cabbies because they won't get a fare back. It's really not that far from the Verizon Center, site of Sunday's WNBA All-Star Game (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). But in big cities, even just a few miles can seem like a very long way.

That's especially the case for kids. Which is why having the East and West teams practice at the boys and girls club was such a nice idea. The center has a brand new basketball floor, thanks to Nike. Places such as this can be a salvation to young people.

One of the East starters, Detroit's Deanna Nolan, is from Flint, Mich. Even if you didn't see "Roger & Me," you likely know how hard times were there when Nolan was a child. (And still are.)

"Growing up, I didn't have anything like this," she said of the practice session where kids got to watch and then interact with players. "We had youth centers -- none as nice as this one, with a new floor -- but we made use of them. "As I got older, they were closing one by one. But you always had the playgrounds. Sometimes you'd have a net, sometimes a chain, sometimes nothing. My mind-set was as long as I had a hoop, I could practice on my shot."

It's one of the blessings of basketball that you don't need much to be able to play it. But if you have a shiny wood floor and crisp nets in a safe environment, it's all the better.

"I think this means a lot to the kids; they know there are people who care about them," Nolan said. "Things like this can help inspire them to follow their dreams, whether those are in sports or anything they want to pursue."

It really can't be overstated how important the links to children and community service are for the WNBA. The All-Star Game is an annual celebration of talent coming together, but it's also a time to reflect on all the things this league means in our societal landscape.

Indiana's Tamika Catchings, known for her community service, echoed Nolan's sentiments about having the All-Stars practice at the boys and girls club.

"I think this is a great idea -- coming here and being able to see the court refurbished, first, and then seeing all these kids and the excitement they have," Catchings said. "It's an opportunity to reach out to those who may not have a chance to come to the game."

Of course, the All-Star gathering also can offer the players themselves a chance to be awed. Last year in New York, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright spoke at an "inspiring women" luncheon. This year, it was current secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

"Man, that was an awesome experience," Catchings said of meeting Rice. "It was kind of nerve-wracking. She was so cool and down-to-earth. Not that I didn't expect that, but anytime you meet somebody of that caliber … it's funny, some people get like that when they meet us."

Plenty of them, in fact, were there to see role models playing on a new court Saturday.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.