Ally was in a sour mood after losing a tough game to Deer Park last Thursday. But then I handed her my camera and she chimped through some of the images I took of her in action. She lit up immediately.
“Damn! I look beast. I am beast!”
Yes, yes you are.
Alexandra “Ally” Leftridge is one of the top girls basketball players on Long (Gah) Island. And while in NYC the past couple weeks, I had the pleasure of shooting a couple of her home games.
I just turned 40 in November. I’ll say this: I never could have planned this career and life path if I tried. Sometimes I wish things would happen much faster – or smoother. But then there are times when I look back at how life has evolved and smile, as if there was a plan all along.
I met Ally’s mom, Cynthia, and Aunt Cassie during a layover in Miami a couple years ago. They were coming from a wedding in Jamaica. I had just shot one in Belize and was off to India for a month of adventures with Peter Ge. The Lakers were on the airport sports bar TV. And as much as I simply hate Kobe, he was playing ridiculously. Cynthia and Cassie were at a table next to me, hooting and hollering as Kobe broke ankles on the court. We laughed together and then started a conversation over drinks about our travels. When Cynthia learned I photographed weddings, she said, “Give me your card. My sis here is getting married next year.”
The following year, I was on L.I., photographing Cassie and John’s wedding.
There was lots of dancing at the wedding. Ally and her mother were excellent. Me? Not so much. Thankfully, I was the one with the camera.
Cynthia asked me if I’d be up for photographing one of her daughter’s prep basketball games. I told her that this wedding photographer has been known to photograph some sports before. Stars aligned this past week during a stop in NYC.
Like I said, this girl can flat out play. So says the local papers. So says this wedding/sports photographer. New York is a huge sports region. I could tell Ally’s team wasn’t used to having a photographer around much. It was cool, though. She took the attention in stride.
I’ve said it many, many times: best access and moments can be captured at high school games. No need to shoot the Olympics to make fun sports photos.
After the first game, I said to Ally, “I hope I embarrassed you tonight.” She said, “No, it was great.” And I said, “I don’t think you heard me right. I said I hope I did embarrass you.” She got a good laugh out of that, a great sense of humor she’s gotten from her mother.
Ally has a great personality and loved the attention. Hell, if I could play ball like her in high school, I’d have loved that attention, too. For better or worse, there weren’t many photos of me riding the pine at Poynter and Glencoe.
Ally’s first game was a joke, a total blowout. She sat out much of the 4th quarter, finishing with 19 points and several boards and one proud momma.
Before the next game – against Deer Creek – I could sense that Ally was a little more serious. Turned out, she had good reason to be. Deer Creek was lights out from the field and the line. Ally had some foul trouble and found herself watching (too) much of the second half. Her host Lady Wildcats, ranked #6 in Suffolk County, lost their first game of the season by a half dozen.
In the stands was her mother, padding, er, keeping stats of the game. Both games I saw, Ally scored 19 points. I joked that the scorekeeper had penciled those stats in before the game even started.
Of course, great players like Ally often don’t have to look too far to see where their skill and passion come from. Cynthia is a Hall of Fame player from Staten Island’s Wagner College. Her Shehawks ended their 1989 season on a 14-game winning streak while claiming the Northeast Conference Championship. Cynthia, who averaged a double-double that year, was the NEC Tournament MVP.
Yeah, this family knows how to play ball. Can’t wait to photograph Ally Cat tear up the competition in college.
For once, being stuck at an airport really paid off. And with an assist from Kobe. Wow.