Kahadijah West never planned on being a poster child for Title IX, women’s rights or any additional noteworthy cause. To her, having a baby following her junior year in high school, just means she’s become a mother — albeit a mother with a purpose.
The Huntington High School senior hopes to parlay her considerable basketball skills in a 6-foot-2 frame into a college scholarship, and in turn, a college degree.
Having that special purpose, along with the opportunities afforded her in the future because of Title IX and a strong support system, means West isn’t likely to fall into the trap of predecessors who give up on athletics when motherhood comes calling at a young age.
“When I first found out I was pregnant, I thought I’d have to give up on everything,” West said recently. “But my mom (Carla West) told me not to give up on my dreams. Once I did have (Michael Qualls Jr.), he motivated me to work harder, and it’s made me a better person. I want to be able to provide good things for him.”
West’s return to form is far from complete, but the Huntington standout has come a long way since giving birth in July. Now she hopes to lead the Lady Raiders to a long 4A playoff run, beginning today in Lafayette against Breaux Bridge in the opening round of the LHSAA party.
Southwood (vs. Airline), Loyola, Green Oaks, Evangel North Caddo and Plain Dealing all earned home games today at 6 p.m. Area teams like Natchitoches Central (vs. Haughton), Mansfield, Homer, Arcadia, Doyline, Florien, Castor and Converse also were awarded home contests in the opening salvo.
Byrd, Captain Shreve, Benton, Fair Park, Woodlawn, Bossier and Mansfield are among the area girls’ squads on the road.
How far the Lady Raiders go will probably be determined by the play of West, who can be dominating on both ends of the floor, but isn’t always consistent and needs frequent breaks. Huntington coach Danielle Butler, who also gave birth to now-16-year-old La’Brittany Butler while she was a freshman playing for Louisiana Tech, refused to let West give in to the temptation to quit basketball. Butler sat out a year after the birth of her daughter, but eventually transferred to ULM, where she earned her degree and moved into a teaching/coaching career. She’d been there, done that.
“In the beginning it was a bit rocky for Khadijah, because it was a big transition for her, trying to run and lose that baby weight,” said Butler, who played in the 1998 NCAA National Championship game with the Lady Techsters. “I told her I wouldn’t let up on her, and I try to keep her level headed. If she asks for advice, I give it to her.”
West, who is attracting recruiting interest from Georgia, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Oregon and South Carolina, said she knows athletics is her best ticket to becoming upwardly mobile.
The support system, including the baby’s father, Michael Qualls, a former Huntington standout who is now starting at Arkansas, has kept West pointed in the right direction. The decision to stick with athletics is something that gives all female athletes long-term success, according to the NCAA’s Model Pregnancy and Parenting Policy, provided by LSUS professor Dr. Cay Evans.
“The benefits of sports participation for student-athletes, particularly females, are astounding: higher grades and graduation rates, development of leadership and teamwork skills, and lifelong physical and emotional health boosts,” the report says.
West said she hid her pregnancy for six months until her AAU coach realized something was going on and called her mother. She had a long talk with mom on Easter Sunday. Once the air was cleared, West began moving forward.
“It hasn’t been easy, and it’s been a lot of hard work to try to get back in shape,” she said. “There were a lot of times when I thought I was gonna pass out.”
Although West is carrying “about a 3.0 GPA,” she still has some work to do on the ACT to make herself a higher-profile NCAA recruit. She’s preparing to take the test again, needing perhaps a point or two. But since she didn’t sign during the early period, West has had more time to pick the right school that isn’t too far from home and from young Michael. She also offers advice to other prepsters who intentionally or unwittingly follow her footsteps.
“Don’t give up on your dreams. Stay in school. Make wise choices so you can take care of the little ones,” West said.