N.C. State announced this week that Jada Peebles was offered a basketball scholarship.
She’s a real standout, so that’s great news for the Wolfpack. Or it will be, in theory, after she graduates from Wakefield High School in 2019.
Jada, you see, is 13 years old.
Let that sink in.
She’s 13 years old and being wooed — more than wooed! — by a major university’s major women’s basketball program.
What were you doing when you were 13?
I was taking tentative first steps in figuring out who I was and what I was good at and what I wanted to do with my life. Very tentative first steps. Because what’s the rush? I’m not the same person now that I was when I was 13, goodness knows. Even at, say, 16, I wasn’t the same person I was when I was 13.
Jada seems like a very intelligent, mature young lady, so I hope no one will read this as any kind of disparagement of her and her dreams. But I think 13 is just shockingly young to be telling a girl who she is, what she’s good at, and what she wants to do with her life. She has the rest of her life ahead, especially as a woman, for the world to try to dictate that kind of stuff to her.
At 13, I feel like most kids are still kind of squishy — soft molds just waiting for impressions and experiences to shape them into whatever it is they’re going to be. It sort of breaks my heart to think of this girl — by no means the youngest ever recruited by college sports teams — as already set in stone.
What if she decides four years from now that she wants to be a surgeon and protect her powerful hands? What if she’d rather spend all her time playing violin? What if she just wants to be a goofball teen and drift through life a little bit for a while?
BUT WAIT, you might be screaming. None of this is binding. Schools can’t sign players officially until much later in the game, so to speak, and her commitment isn’t legally binding in any way right now. She can change her mind; she’s perfectly free.
But she was in the paper. And on TV. And all over social media. Can she really back out now? Her whole life, it seems, has been groomed for this moment, and it’s this moment that’s going to define her next five years.
To me, being 13 is about being free, about living almost entirely without definition. You’re old enough to see things about the world and think about them, but you’re young enough to not have to carry it on your shoulders. You can try being one person one day, and maybe someone slightly different another day, trying it all on for size. No one’s asking you “What do you want to do with your life” yet, and you’re not expected to have a road map or even a destination in mind.
I have issues with sports in general, and with college sports in particular (like you couldn’t already tell). So yeah, I’m biased. Why isn’t N.C. State wooing the middle school science fair winners with scholarships already? Where’s the seventh-grade state spelling bee champ heading for college?
In a fairer world, those still would hold just as much weight as sports skills. But that’s not the world I want. I want a world where a 13-year-old can just be a kid. As free from definitions as an open field and as unlimited as a prairie sky. Basketball is a fine dream. But at 13, it should be one of many, and the road should be wide open, with turns just waiting to be explored.