Like many WNBA players, Las Vegas Aces center Carolyn Swords was used to spending the offseason playing overseas.
But after joining the Aces last year, Swords — approaching her eighth year in the league — decided to take a break from the grind of the year-round schedule and spend some time working with local schools to promote female athletics.
“It’s been great to help establish the Aces in the community,” she said.
Swords has visited a number of schools in the Las Vegas area, participating in reading events and health challenges at elementary schools, and helping launch the Lace Up Mentorship Program for female basketball players in high school.
“We wanted to be a resource in terms of being able to speak to high school girls about what comes after high school,” Swords said.
Whether that means playing college basketball or pursuing something else, the Aces will help field questions through the program.
“We also wanted to get on the court with them and put them through some drills and teach them the knowledge that’s necessary to be successful at the college level,” she said.
The Aces players will return in the upcoming week to prepare for their second season in Las Vegas, which begins in May.
Players will be assigned to one of the three high schools — Spring Valley, Chaparral or Virgin Valley — to speak about their own college experience and transitioning to the WNBA.
High school programs in the Clark County School District were selected by a committee, Swords said. “We had a great response and it was really difficult ... but those three schools really did a fabulous job of making their case for why they should be the first Lace Up teams.”
Being part of the first professional women’s basketball team in Las Vegas is an exciting and influential opportunity, Swords said. When she was in the eighth grade, she went to her first Boston College women’s game. That experience was so important to her she grew up to play for them.
“It was one of the first times I had seen women who were as tall as I was, if not taller at the time, playing basketball, being fierce on the court and attending this beautiful university and getting a top level education,” Swords said. “I think that made that a possibility and very tangible. I saw women very much like me doing what I loved to do.”
It’s why, as a professional athlete, being a recognizable and approachable face in the community is essential.
And while a typical day during basketball season revolves around the court, Swords said her days in the offseason are always different. They almost always consist of a workout — “because I still have to prepare for the upcoming season” — followed by some sort of community building.
For Nevada Reading Week, she read fellow WNBA player Ivory Latta’s children's book "Despite the Height" to elementary school kids. Other times, she’s working in the office with the community manager to plan more events and clinics.
It’s about establishing women’s basketball in Las Vegas and connecting people to women’s athletics in a way they hadn’t been before.
“The city has been incredibly friendly and welcoming,” Swords said. “There’s a lot happening here in Vegas. It’s filled with good people and I think that’s been such a nice thing to experience.”