Elena Delle Donne fans drifted away from the booth while they reviewed photos taken with the WNBA player.
Reeling with wide smiles, silent screams and overall disbelief, enthusiasts of all ages waited in line to meet the famous Delawarean at the Barnes and Noble in Brandywine Hundred on Saturday.
Lines zigzagged in between the bookshelves on topics like self-help and Shakespeare, but those queuing up were busy engrossed in two books to notice the novels on the shelves.
The children’s book focuses on a tall protagonist, Elle Deluca, who is learning to cope with her height while enduring seventh-grade embarrassments, like taking dance classes paired with a shorter boy. Delle Donne’s book is based on the 6-foot-5 basketball player’s personal childhood experiences.
The book targets 8- to 12-year-old readers, like Paige West, 10, of Middletown.
Paige is already 5-foot-5 and said bullies regularly tease her for her height. The elementary student said she looks up to Delle Donne for advice.
“Whenever I get teased or bullied, I think about what would Elena do, and now it kind of just rolls off my back,” Paige said.
She and scores of girls in basketball jerseys waited up to two hours in line while clutching Delle Donne’s books. One group of five girls wearing jerseys queued up after their basketball tournament.
Ellie Carter-Soriano, 10, Olivia O’Hara, 11, Emily O’Hara, 11, Quinn Simmons, 10, and Bridget McManamon, 11, chatted about how excited they were to meet the WNBA player they have looked up to for years. The team from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, also bought books for teammates who couldn’t make it.
“We are really pumped about meeting her,” Ellie said. “I went to her camp, and I kinda got a one-on-one with her, and she is just an MVP.”
For other supporters, Delle Donne’s fame symbolizes the need for more female celebrity athletes. She is filling a gap for many young athletes.
Kaleigh Barry, 12, of Hockessin, already stands tall over her mother and wears a size 13 shoe. Barry said Delle Donne has been a staple in her household, one reason being she is one of the few WNBA players with name recognition.
Her family has been comparing the H.B. du Pont Middle School student to the gold-medalist Olympian for years, partially because both are so tall.
“She is my role model. I mean, she is famous in Delaware for playing basketball, and she is tall so, of course, I look up to her. She is one of the only players I know,” Kaleigh said.
Anita Manning, a resident of Delaware for over 25 years, left the signing area with pep in her step and a victorious fist raised above her head in excitement. Manning said with so few famous women athletes, Delle Donne is the ideal, both in character and talent.
“As a female athlete, she is an excellent role model in every way in her character, her values,” Manning said. “I love women’s basketball and watching her play. She is so incredibly graceful. I sometimes watch to see if her feet are touching the floor. She is skilled and absolutely has incredible drive.”
Delle Donne said she enjoys setting an example for young girls and boys. She doesn’t see it as an extra burden.
“I think the best part of my job is being a role model. It’s amazing seeing all of these young girls who look up to me – and even young boys. It’s huge for people to have big role models in their life, and I take it very seriously,” the native Delawarean said.
Heading into her sixth WNBA season and second with the Washington Mystics, Delle Donne said she is trying to change the status quo of celebrity athletes.
“I try to be as outspoken as possible,” Delle Donne said. “We need more visibility in all professional women’s leagues.”
Hannah Yoder, a best friend of Delle Donne’s since college and bridesmaid at her wedding, said she resonates with others because she makes her own happiness and makes an effort.
“I would say that she has this love of people. She really puts in the time and energy for her supporters and that goes a long way,” Yoder said.
Many of the fans mentioned how inspiring it was that she didn’t let her profession dictate her life and prioritized her family. In her book, “My Shot,” Delle Donne explains why she left the University of Connecticut quickly after arriving at the mecca to women’s collegiate basketball. One of the listed reasons is her family.
“I think she took a stand for what she wanted. She didn’t stay at UConn. She stood out in her own way. It didn’t matter what team she was on, she was going to take them far and be a leader,” Yonder said.
Alison Roberts, an Ursuline Academy alumna of Newark, said putting her family first just speaks volumes of Delle Donne’s character. Roberts said she and her family used to wait in line to buy tickets to her high school games.
“Watching her play at the sold-out games, everyone knew they were watching someone who was going to be famous,” Roberts said.
Roberts brought her 8-year-old daughter, Logann, to get both her books signed – one for each of them. Logann just finished her first season of basketball and cried at her last game because she enjoyed the sport so much.
Roberts said they just found a new bedtime story.