Amber Batchelor is the founder of Ladies Who Hoop, a unique New York City basketball organization that is facilitated strictly by women. Known to most Upper West Side locals as the “The Mayor,” Batchelor has developed Ladies Who Hoop into a powerful and positive force, involving over 800 women in the NYC area in just two short years.
Amber discusses her love for basketball, her journey in starting Ladies Who Hoop, and her goals to expand the organization’s initiatives in order to further empower women.
“As you’re doing things, more opportunities come your way to keep pushing you and telling you to keep going in that direction.”
Q. How old were you when you started playing basketball and how did you get into it?
A. I was really young, probably about 6 or 7. There was a basketball hoop in the back of my building. I would look out of my window and all the excitement and fun seemed to be centered around that little hoop. All the kids from the neighborhood would come play there. When I was big enough to go out, the only thing I wanted to do was try to shoot around.
I don’t think I knew a whole lot about it. I just knew that was where everyone was having fun. All the laughter and commotion was around the basketball court. It wasn’t the swings or the monkey bars; It was the hoop. So I just wanted to be apart of it.
Q. What is Ladies Who Hoop (LWH) and why did you start it?
A. Ladies Who Hoop is an organization that empowers women of all ages through the game of basketball. I always somehow found myself next to a hoop. But after college, you get a job and things happen, and basketball kind of goes on the back burner. For a woman, it’s even harder because you can’t just pick up a basketball and go to your local park. You can, but you just don’t know what to expect. It can be a little nerve-wracking. But I was always the kind of a kid that did that. And luckily I still lived in the same neighborhood, so I knew a lot of the people that were around and playing in the parks. So I was able to go to the parks in my neighborhood with a bit of a comfort level, even though I was still nervous my first time.
I said to myself, “I wonder what all my friends that I used to play with in college and high school are doing. I wonder if they still play or have a hoop in their backyard.” So I started reaching out to people and asking, “Hey, do you want to come meet and play ball?”
We started meeting on Sunday mornings. It started out with just me and two other women. We would play games of 1 on 1 up to 3 points. Then another girl, who was about 15, would see us there at the park and she would play with us, too. So then we would play 2 on 2 and it grew from there. People in the neighborhood started to find out about our little crew on Sundays. It’s not everyday that you see a bunch of women playing basketball on an outdoor court without any guys involved.
It picked up from there. We ended up being in the New York Times about our little run, which was crazy. The feedback and how people reacted to the story so positively made me feel like I could be doing more. That’s when the whole idea of calling ourselves something and seeking out other opportunities started.
It happened organically. As you’re doing things, more opportunities come your way to keep pushing you and telling you to keep going in that direction.
Q. How did the Advil feature come about?
A. I got a message through our website saying that Advil was doing a feature called “American Doers” about people that are affecting change in their local communities in unique ways. They wanted to do some feel-good stories to inspire people to get out and do things on their own. So this series really appealed to me and I thought it was awesome. It sounded like it was going to portray what we were doing in a really positive way. So I jumped on it and definitely wanted to be apart of it. I really like the way they put the whole story together.
(Check it out here!)
Q. How has being a woman affected you in everything you do with LWH and your basketball journey as a whole?
A. I think being a woman shaped the whole need for LWH. I didn’t know it would grow into what it is. I just know that I was lucky enough to have grown up and still live in the same neighborhood, and be able to go to a basketball court and not be that afraid to shoot around. But that was such a unique life experience and I didn’t know if anyone else would be that comfortable to do that by themselves. But if they knew that there would be some women on that court when they got there that would be welcoming them, it would be a different experience.
Men have a lot of outlets; Just being able to pick up a basketball and go to the playground and not face the same skepticism that a woman would face, whether they can play or not. So we just wanted to keep it strictly about women. Our summer tournament is the only women’s basketball tournament that is founded by women, run by women, has women referees, women players, a women scorer’s table, and no male component. (Well my husband does help me bring the table out every week. [Laughs]) I think that’s what makes LWH unique and special, and it definitely drives the goals that we have for the future.
Q. What are your goals for LWH moving forward and what’s in the works?
A. Each year I’ve set a goal. The first year (2015), it was just to get the name out there. So I put the name “Ladies Who Hoop” on everything I possibly could, and I think it worked. I think most women in the New York City area who play basketball regularly have heard of LWH, which is an awesome thing.
The second year (2016) was about quality, not quantity. What are we going to be involved in? What is our message? What is going to help our network? Why are we doing this?
We’re doing it to empower women in every sense. Even if it means just having you meet a bunch of women who are successful or working in various fields that could possibly get you a job. Or having someone to hang out with on the weekends if you have just traveled to NYC and don’t really have any friends. If you came to LWH, there had to be some sort of takeaway of enhancing the experience for yourself.
This year the main goal is “beyond basketball.” That’s what LWH is about in 2017. We have a 12 and under girls program (Larks) and a 13 and up program (Reign). We call them “Future LWH.” We pay for participation in leagues, and women who are in the LWH network coach and mentor the girls. We also started doing “Girl Talk” where some of the older girls act as mentors and tutors to the younger girls. I’m also developing a program now called “Watch Me Work,” which is also the 20th anniversary theme for the WNBA. It’s where the girls can go into the workplace and see professional women in that environment. In some cases they’ll even be able to shadow them for part of the day and do mini internships with them. So I’m working on that for this year.
Q. What is your favorite part of LWH?
A. There are a few things that really make me happy. One is consistently being around the game that I love. Even if I’m not playing, I’m consistently around a basketball court and people playing basketball and talking about basketball. It’s my favorite thing to be apart of.
Another thing is my involvement with the LARKS team. I read somewhere that a girl’s confidence peaks at 9 years old. That really stuck with me. And that’s the age of some of the girls I’m working with right now, so I want to get their confidence as high as possible.
Seeing them flourish and start to develop a love for basketball the way I developed a love for it, and to see them find it for themselves…it lights me up. It’s so rewarding and fulfilling to see them make a basket for the first time in a game. To be apart of that and help make that happen is the ultimate experience. Some of them are going to be ball players and some of them aren’t, but at the end of the day, they’re gaining great life lessons.