“When the coach came out with the list of causes the team would be supporting, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to compromise and go against biblical principles. I decided, in light of eternity, that basketball wasn’t worth it.”
When Leah Church got into the University of North Carolina (UNC), she cried. Her mom cried. Her sister cried.
It was her dream school, and she hadn’t even applied.
Church had always loved UNC—she had Carolina clothes, birthday parties, and bedroom decor. Her favorite thing about the school was the women’s basketball team. She remembers running laps around the house as a 7-year-old, trying to get in shape to play basketball there.
Since Church was homeschooled, her mom found creative ways for her to play ball—on homeschool teams, travel teams, or private school teams.
She was good, averaging 25 points a game with a 47 percent field goal percentage. (Shooting guards in the NBA last year averaged 44 percent.) But “as I got older, I saw it would be hard to attain a scholarship to play D1,” she said. (Division I schools, like UNC, play the highest level of college sports.)
So she gave up on UNC and signed on at North Carolina State. “I was kind of devastated, but I was like, Well, this has to be the Lord’s plan because it’s what he put before me.”
And then, the summer before college, she got a call from UNC. The coaches knew her from basketball camp, and she was offered a full scholarship to play basketball. “It was a dream come true,” Church said. “It was amazing.”
For two years, it was amazing. She worked hard, acing her classes and improving her game. Her faith set her apart, but she was shielded from some of the secular pressures of her team and university by her Christian coaches, including famed head coach Sylvia Hatchell—until the end of her sophomore year, when Hatchell resigned. The environment shifted under a new head coach. At the end of her junior year, Church walked away from the team.
TGC asked Church how she knew it was time to quit, how she handled the disappointment, and how God has provided for her since then.
You love UNC women’s basketball, you’re pretty tough, and you aren’t a quitter. Take us into your experience—what made this experience so difficult that you needed to walk away?
It was so hard.
When you get to play in Carmichael Arena—where the UNC women’s team plays—you’re on the court where Michael Jordan played when he was at UNC. When I got to step onto the court, it was everything I’d ever dreamed of.