GENEVA, Ohio — In 2022, Candice Wiggins was named the Head Coach and Director of Women's Basketball at SPIRE Academy. It's a journey she's been preparing for her entire career.
A four-time Stanford All-American, USA Player of the Year, and WNBA champion, Wiggins knows firsthand that sports has the ability to change lives. And not just for for athletes, but for coaches and spectators too.
In her new role, she hopes to use her experience and influence to lead the next generation, aiding them in the transition from young girls to women.
"It's just a matter of doing the work and just being the change that I want to see when it comes to girls becoming women," said Wiggins.
Wiggins is building the program from the ground up, using the past as an anchor for the lesson she's sharing with her players.
But in order to prepare her girls for the future, Wiggins believes you must understand the past. And for her, she pulls inspiration from a man who played on a field instead of a court.
"Regardless, I just want you to know that I speak out when I think I should and say what I believe. I feel this is a country big enough to hold people who differ and big enough for all to be respected even by those with whom they differ," those are the words of Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play Major League Baseball. He's a man who Wiggins and so many other revere for his work beyond the dugout.
"The idea is changing hearts and minds through performance on the court," explained Wiggins. "But also what that meant in the time that he was performing and playing and and how he, you know, his character and the personality of Jackie Robinson became the personality of this country."
Jackie Robinson's legacy has shaped Wiggins' life, but she's hoping to share what she's learned with her team.
"I would say that identity is a big thing here. This is a place where you really you know, sports is a team sport and all of that, but it's also an individual place and space," said Wiggins.
If you’re making the trip to SPIRE, you’ll find that the highway is straight and narrow—the opposite of Wiggins' journey. As a player, she's experienced a lot including headlines, isolation, discrimination, even physical pain. But despite the trials, Candice, the woman was able to persevere.
"And this success was because I always had that piece of who my character was when I wasn't playing basketball," said Wiggins.
And while the roster at SPIRE may be small, she's learning their impact can be a slam dunk.
"There's also this work, this experience and the rewards of that that come with hard work and discipline every day. And I think that's what people the audience is watching sports," said Wiggins. " I think that's what they value, is they can see that, they can see that discipline, they can see those habits. And it kind of gives you a way to to connect to something that is, you know, bigger than yourself."
Candice is hoping to pass the torch to the next generation both professionally, and personally. But she says it’s gonna to take unity to see real change in the world of sports.
"That's the key, because then that's really the that's the Jackie Robinson way, you know, of getting everyone. We're all together in this," said Wiggins.