When Tom Miller was rising up in Northeast Ohio, the WNBA was simply getting its footing. Miller, then a highschool junior, watched because the league embarked on its first season and as ladies throughout the nation started to decide up a ball within the wake of stronger Title IX provisions. Now, practically 25 years later, the 40-year-old has change into a pioneer and champion of ladies sports activities in Ohio.
Miller runs Ballher Athletic Apparel, a clothes model for feminine athletes, out of Alliance, OH. Created in 2006, Ballher—pronounced “baller,” with the letter “H” meant to spotlight the feminine athlete—offers ladies highschool sports activities groups and AAU ladies basketball groups throughout Ohio with customized jerseys, t-shirts and extra. With an emphasis on supporting feminine athletes at a younger age, Miller desires to be sure that they really feel valued and revered as gamers.
In 2006, Miller was working as the ladies’ basketball head coach at Marlington (OH) High, and he observed that lots of his gamers wouldn’t have their very own gear—they’d usually put on outsized hand-me-downs from an older brother or relative. A lightbulb went off within the coach’s thoughts.
“Girls need something that they can identify that’s all their own,” he stated. “So I began wanting round—AND1 was standard, that was a man’s emblem. And then you definitely had LeBron’s emblem, one other man. All these manufacturers are largely silhouettes of males and so I used to be like, Why can’t there be a woman’s model, a woman’s model that speaks to them on their very own degree?”
That yr, Ballher was born. While the mission started as a method to get extra ladies to play basketball and to really feel assured on the courtroom, Miller and his crew now additionally provide gear for ladies’ volleyball, softball and soccer applications.
This previous summer season, Ballher acquired an help from Tamika Catchings, former Indiana Fever ahead, WNBA champion and present basic supervisor for the Fever. In June, Catchings signed a three-year endorsement cope with Ballher. Since then, she wore customized shorts from the corporate throughout her stint on American Ninja Warrior, joined Miller to shock a neighborhood Ohio ladies’ basketball crew with new uniforms and shaped a partnership between her Catch the Stars Foundation and Ballher.
“Being a young female athlete myself once upon a time, not really having products that were designed and made specially for me,” the newly inducted Hall of Famer stated. “I think that his mission is just really cool and one that’s become dear to my heart.”
Catchings and Miller met in 2008 at one of many former Marlington coach’s basketball expertise camps. In the years that adopted, the 2 began to work collectively by means of Catchings’ youth fitness-focused basis, and Ballher has created t-shirts for her camps and different occasions. Once Catchings’ player-endorsement cope with Nike ended, Miller and Ballher noticed the chance for the 2 to work collectively as soon as extra.
“What Ballher’s been able to do is they’ve found their niche in an area that hasn’t been as solidified in the past,” Catchings stated. “I think [Miller has] done a great job with his products, his design and his creativity of being able to serve a demographic on the local level.”
While athletic attire behemoths like Nike and adidas have international recognition and a battle chest of sources, Ballher hopes to faucet into its native roots by constructing connections with the groups it outfits and designing customized attire that matches their historical past and persona.
With the coronavirus pandemic shuttering companies throughout the nation for an prolonged time frame, Ballher has been pressured to pause manufacturing. Last month, a neighborhood ladies basketball crew outfitted in Ballher attire was warming up for his or her semifinal recreation when, minutes earlier than tipoff, the occasion was shut down and everybody was despatched house. Along with faculty closures, all the AAU groups that Ballher equips have stopped taking part in.
In the interim, Miller has began a problem on social media to elevate cash for native meals banks in Ohio. The marketing campaign, #MakeMyShotChallenge, encourages children and adults throughout the nation to file themselves making a basketball trickshot after which post it on social media with the hashtag, tagging just a few associates. If the tagged associates don’t reply with their very own video of the identical trick shot inside 24 hours, they need to donate cash. Ballher has a hyperlink on its web site to donate, and 100 % of the proceeds raised can be donated to a neighborhood meals pantry.
Across the world, nearly each sports activities league has been suspended till it’s secure to resume play. But many, together with Miller, fear about what this implies for the way forward for girls’s sports activities—particularly within the US, the place the WNBA, particularly, was making strides and rising in stature.
“I feel like the men are going to rebound no matter what,” Miller stated. “I feel like the media is always ready to just jump in that circle because it’s what they’re familiar with and it’s what they know. And so I think it’s really up to people on social media to keep it going because without that, [the media is] always going to chase the dollar.”
“So many companies are losing so much money that they’re going to be very quick to jump into old habits. It’s going to take a very conscious effort to pick up the ball where it was dropped and continue that for women’s sports.”
Bela Kirpalani is a contributor at SLAM. Follow her on Twitter @belakirpalani.