It’s no secret that teenage moms face an uphill battle. Only about half of them earn a high school diploma by age 22. Few make it to college. The good news is that female athletes are less than half as likely to become pregnant as their nonathletic peers.
But when it comes to Wingate basketball player Zasha Barrett, those statistics don’t seem to matter.
A standout athlete at Monroe High, Barrett compiled her own set of stats, pulling down more than 900 rebounds over four years and finishing her Redhawk career averaging a double-double with 14.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
Also while in high school, she got pregnant.
“At first I just thought my life was over,” Barrett says. “I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do anything. But my family stepped in and was like, ‘We will help you as much as we can.’”
Now a junior communications major, Barrett has a 3-year-old named Avah and a second support system in the University community.
“She’s funny. She is very tall, just like I am. She is silly. She really acts like me,” says the 6-2 center of her daughter. “If I need to take her to the doctor or something, all I need to do is tell Coach Hancock. I tell my teachers, email them. It is pretty easy for me as long as I let people know what I need and what’s going on.”
Ann Hancock, head women’s basketball coach since 2012 and a member of Wingate’s Class of 1992, wasn’t sure how Barrett would manage motherhood and collegiate basketball, but she knew she’d get help at Wingate.
“When I was coming to school here, when I was making my choice, it has always been the people that have been the biggest difference maker,” Hancock says. “We do have a beautiful campus, but there are so many places that have pretty buildings and nice grass and pretty flowers and all that, but what makes it stand out to me are the people.”
Best of both worlds
In high school, Barrett was being pursued by Shaw University and had garnered interest from Guilford, UNC Pembroke and Lander. Hancock was impressed with her athleticism.
“She runs like a deer. And she was a three-sport athlete at Monroe. I had seen her on the track and had gone to her basketball games. She was just head-and-shoulders above other people at that level. I really thought she was a diamond in the rough,” the coach says. “It seemed like a really good fit that she could have sort of the best of both worlds: that she could still go to school, still play basketball and be close enough to see Avah on a daily basis if she needed to.”
Barrett lives on campus but spends much of her time at her Mom’s home, caring for Avah.
“My mother has been very helpful to me,” Barrett says. “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I would do.” She describes her freshman year as “shocking,” in that she didn’t realize all that was involved with basketball: frequent practices, workouts in the weight room, study halls and more.
“Coach was hard on me as a freshman and sophomore,” Barrett says. “She really related basketball with the real world, like being on time for practice, exceeding expectations. It really has taught me a lot.”
Hancock knew Barrett could be overwhelmed but says the center has handled the extra responsibilities well and has made measurable progress.
“When she first got here, time management was a challenge and how to communicate with people and how to express the things that she needed, if she needed to be gone from campus or if she needed to miss class,” Hancock says. “It’s about giving people plenty of notice and explaining it beforehand rather than after the fact.
“My goal is to try to teach my players the skills they will need to be successful in life, not just on the basketball court. Those are things that will carry over for her: how to communicate and handle situations the correct way.”
Knowing it would be a tough road, Hancock made sure early on that Barrett was connected with resources already available on campus.
“Chris Zeigler at the Academic Resource Center has been fantastic for her, for whatever she needed as far as selecting classes and teachers that would be a good fit for her,” she says.
Barrett echoes the praise.
“The ARC has helped me a lot,” she says. “Chris Ziegler has helped me with my classes. Anytime that I need her I can go to her, no matter if I make an appointment or not. I can just go to her office and talk to her about anything, and she will do her best to help me out with it.”
Barrett has also found support in the Communication and Art Department, where she has discovered some of her own hidden talents.
“When I first came to Wingate I had never done any painting,” she says. “When I did my first painting, I realized I am pretty good at this. My teacher was really helping me out, teaching me what to do and what not to do.”
Her love of art has led to a student-assistant post with associate professor Marilyn Hartness, who teaches pottery. “Me and Mrs. Hartness have gotten in a close relationship,” Barrett says. “She understands me. She helps me out.”
Hartness says her form of encouragement is fairly simple: She refuses to accept less than Barrett’s best.
Although her playing time at Wingate doesn’t compare to her minutes at Monroe, No. 32 has been doing her best on the court, earning a career-high 15 points in a recent game against Chowan University and stepping up to fill the gap during a two-game absence by Marta Miscenko, the leading scorer for the 19-3 Bulldogs.
“I always tell myself, before every game, I say to myself, I’m playing for my daughter,” Barrett says. “I’m doing this for her, so make the best of it.”
She knows the opportunity to play college basketball wouldn’t have happened without the support of Hancock and the family that has stood behind her.
“They said, ’We want you to play college basketball. We know how much you love the sport. So, go ahead and do what you need to do and we are going to be by your side,’” Barrett says. “It’s been hard sometimes, but I just stick with it, because I know the end result will be good for both of us.”
Feb. 1, 2018