Basketball program empowering young girls at the South Mountain YMCA

The “Her Time to Play” national program teaches young girls the skills they need to succeed on and off the court.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The South Mountain YMCA is bringing more to the game of basketball with the local introduction of a national program called “Her Time to Play,” which teaches girls the skills they need to succeed on the court, as well as off the court.

The Y runs the program in partnership with the WNBA and Jr. NBA. Open to ages 7-15, the program is described as “a national initiative that is dedicated to championing change on behalf of girls and women and providing them with ways to connect, collaborate, and actively engage with one another through the game of basketball.”

“We saw an opportunity to bring more to our basketball program than just a chance to play. It’s what the players are learning in the process,” said Jason Kelly, Senior Director of Youth Sports and Wellness at the South Mountain Y. “This program is right in step with our mission of helping children of all ages and backgrounds realize their full potential. To witness the girls’ growth over the course of the program is powerful.”

More than 25 young athletes are currently enrolled in the Y’s program, split into two groups by age. They not only build their basketball skills through practice and scrimmages against one another, they also learn important life lessons through a  curriculum meant to inspire positive self-esteem, confidence, and teamwork, and help girls learn how to handle adversity and challenges they encounter. The curriculum also highlights the personal narratives of WNBA basketball players.

The South Mountain Y introduced the program to local youth last spring and it quickly gained popularity. It’s morphed into more than just time to play; it’s also become a social outlet for the girls to spend time off the court, watching professional basketball games and enjoying pizza together. 

A team of three coaches and additional guest coaches, including volunteers from Seton Hall University, guide the young girls through the program. They meet on Saturdays at the Y and played their first competitive game against the Madison Area YMCA in February. Kelly said he’s hoping to secure more opportunities to play games with other Ys and get the girls their own team jerseys. 

Julie Fry’s 8-year-old daughter Ceola Hales has been taking basketball classes at the Y since she was in preschool. As she got older, Fry noticed her daughter becoming more shy as she played alongside the boys who were generally bigger than her. Fry enrolled her in Her Time to Play last spring and said it’s been a great option for her age to boost her self-esteem and further her interest in the sport. 

“She’s generally more confident and more social with the other kids there. She feels like there’s a place for her in women’s basketball,” Fry said.

To learn more about Her Time to Play or other basketball programs at the Y, visit the South Mountain YMCA at or contact Jason Kelly at [email protected]

Photo Courtesy of Mollie Shauger