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Class Of '17: A New School And A Second Chance On The Court

Stella M. Chávez
Phantasia Chavers has been practicing her volleyball skills this summer. This week, she’s trying out for the Cedar Hill JV girls volleyball team.";

Classes at most North Texas schools begin in a few weeks. When Phantasia Chavers starts 10th grade at Cedar Hill High School, she hopes to be spending time after school on the JV volleyball team. Phantasia’s one of the Class of ’17 students KERA’s been following as part of the American Graduate initiative. For Phantasia, a new school year means a new school and a second chance on the court.

This summer, PhantasiaChavers is on a mission. Setting, hitting, passing, spiking. For five hours most Sundays, it’s volleyball time at Bob Knight's Field House in Duncanville. Phantasia said she’s invested a lot of time learning to play the sport.

“It means a lot to me because it’s the first thing I learned to do by myself cause everything else my momma or my sister did it for me,” she said.

Last year was tough for Phantasia. She didn’t make the freshmen team and ended up as a football trainer. She also battled depression, but he mom made sure she got help. This year, she has something to prove.

I wanted to feel as [an] individual I can be different from the rest of my family because they don’t play sports,” she said.

Her love for the sport began in fifth grade when she played on a club team. Now she's older and the competition is intense.

Coach Clarence Nevels said Phantasia has improved her game and thinks she has a shot at the JV team. He always tells the girls: At tryouts, coaches have to see something different.

“That’s what they’re looking for. What did you do to make yourself different? Cause coaches don’t have the time to really develop them from a skill standpoint,” Nevels said. “They’re gonna go through drills and things of that nature, but as far as developing a skill, the coach is trying to find the best player that she can put on the court right now.”

Nevels said Phantasia is dedicated, and that sets her apart. She knows a lot about the sport and seems focused this time around. That could be a game changer.

“There’s all kinds of girls that can jump, set and hit, but once you get the mental part down and you get in a program that truly conditions more than just the body, then I think that’s what helps those types of girls like Phantasia get it right,” Nevels said.

Still, there’s the possibility she won’t make the team. If that happens, Phantasia said she’ll try out for a club team in November. Club sports aren’t cheap. Kids pay $35 for each weekly practice. Nevels compares it to the cost of eating out. If they don’t show, they don’t pay.

“It keeps the girls busy, because these girls could be doing other things on a Sunday,” he said. “They’ve been here since about one o’clock. Trust me, there’s plenty of things these young girls could get involved in, but they’re here.”

This school year is going to be crucial for Phantasia off the court, too. It’s her first year at Cedar Hill High, which means a lot of academic and social pressures. In ninth grade, she battled depression. Her mom made sure she got help. For teens like her, playing sports can make a difference. In a British study last fall, 83 percent of teens who exercised said they weren’t as depressed by the end of the study.

During a break at the field house, Phantasia talked about the grind of practice and running. And like a lot of teenagers, she’s not crazy about it.

“I’m ready for the court,” she said with a big smile. “I ain’t ready for the track and the bleachers and all that. Because they like over work us.”

As practice wrapped up, Coach Nevels had a heart to heart with Phantasia. She’s improved, but he wants her to take her game up a notch — be more aggressive on the court, less passive.

Tryouts started Monday. On Wednesday, she finds out whether she made the cut.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.