Safety pins, a pair of size 17 sneakers, and Brady from Nike customer service.
That doesn’t sound like the recipe for a heart-warming success story, but those were the linchpins to a life-changing moment for Palm Springs freshman basketball player Camrin Hampton.
The every-day heroes in the story are two selfless men, strangers until two weeks ago, who combined old-fashioned compassion and new-fangled technology to alter the direction of a young athlete’s life.
Meet Camrin Hampton
Hampton is Muslim. She lost her mother at an early age and moved in with her sister when she was five years old. Her sister followed the Islamic religion and therefore so too does Hampton.
Now a teen-ager on the Palm Springs freshman basketball team, Hampton, in keeping with Muslim tradition, wears a hijab – a cloth head-covering – in public, including during her basketball games.
That’s been a problem for her because the silk or cotton ones she wears every day at school don’t stay on during the rough and tumble action of a girls basketball game. She has to use safety pins to hold it in place and even then it moves around a lot or her long hair sneaks out of it and flops around in her face.
The problem came to a head during an early season game when one of the officials said she couldn’t play with safety pins in her hair, considering it to be dangerous in the same way that basketball players are not allowed to wear rings, or necklaces or earrings.
Taking the pins out made playing all but impossible, so a bummed out Hampton sat out most of the rest of that game.
“I don’t know what they thought I was gonna do with the safety pin, but the refs told me I couldn’t have them on the court,” Hampton said. “It was a white (hijab) that I wore and I don’t know the material exactly, but it was very silky and slippery so I needed something to hold it in place.”
Also in the gym that night was Bryan Stephens. Stephens is the Palm Springs JV boys’ basketball coach and works at the school as a behavioral support specialist in the therapeutic educational program, which helps the emotionally disabled students at the school.
Anyway, we’ll call him what the students call him, Coach B.
Coach B saw what happened to Hampton that night and even heard the refs on the phone, calling their supervisors to find out how to handle it. He saw Hampton’s smile fade away and it stuck with him.
Coach B and Brady
A few weeks later in mid-January, Coach B, a 6-foot, 11-inch mountain of a man, was online at Nike.com looking to add to his sneaker collection. He was checking out the latest styles in size 16 or 17 and up popped “Brady” one of those “Nike Expert” assistants you can chat with in message form while you shop.
They worked together on his shoe order, and then something popped into Stephens’ head. Actually two things: Hampton’s struggles with her hijab that December night, and a faint memory that Nike was working with an Olympian he had seen on an athletic version.
“I remembered that fencer from the Olympics (Ibtihaj Muhammad) and I knew Nike was working with her on hijabs for athletes and that stuff, so I asked if they had any or if they were out yet,” Coach B said.
Brady said they were working on something like that, but they don’t come out until June or July and wondered why Coach B asked.
Brady said he’d look into it, and that’s how they left it.
A couple days later Stephens received a message. It said be on the lookout for a package that should arrive Monday, Jan. 30.
Sure enough, it did. It was a box with a letter to Coach B, a letter to Hampton, two Nike stickers and two of the not-yet-released Nike Pro Hijabs, one small and one medium, all black with a white Nike swoosh on the side.
“It was a blessing,” Coach B said. “With so much going on for them, to look out for her like that when they didn’t have to. I gotta give it to Brady. Beaverton, Oregon, is where he was stationed. That’s what I call him, Brady from Beaverton.”
Now with the hijabs in hand, Coach B told Hampton on Wednesday to come find him, because he had something for her.
Keep in mind, she had no idea any of this was going on.
“It was Wednesday during fourth period, I found him and he brought them out, and my jaw literally dropped,” Hampton said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. Coach B took it on himself to do that. I don’t know how he did that, because I knew they weren’t even out yet. I’m so appreciative.”
The letter from Nike to Hampton lifted her spirits, too.
“They basically said we heard what was happening to you, and we want you to be as comfortable as possible to be your best,” Hampton said. “They didn’t want me to keep having the same problems.”
Now armed with her new athletic hijab, there was only one thing left to do: Play in a game with it.
That happened Thursday when the Palm Springs freshman team played at Shadow Hills. During pre-game warm-ups, Hampton was getting used to it, moving it around to just the perfect spot, tucking her hair into it. Hampton has long hair that goes all the way down to her waist that she wears in one long braid so it’s easy to manipulate on game days.
She played with her usual aggressive style, rarely having to even think about her hijab. She gave it the ravest of reviews after the game.
“It’s so much better in every way,” she said. “The material is made so like air can come inside so it’s not hot. It’s not slowing me down. I don’t have to stop and fix it during the game. I don’t need to sub out to fix it. It’s really nice and it stays on and it’s tight. I love it.”
To put it in Nike sales jargon, the Nike Pro Hijab is: Made with lightweight, breathable fabric that wicks away sweat, and stays tucked in during any workout or competition. The pull-on design and long back keeps the hijab in place, while mesh fabric provides a breathable, personalized fit.
Hampton said she’s not going to save it just for games, she’ll proudly wear it during the day to school. She said currently she has four or five different hijabs that she rotates based on what goes with her outfit. She has a black cotton one, the silk white one and some other printed ones. But this one is her new favorite.
For now basketball is Hampton’s only sport, but she said that may very well change.
“Right now, I only play basketball, but I’m looking forward to playing more sports, especially now with this,” she said, palming the hijab on the top of her head. “And when they do come out, I’m looking forward to getting more of these because I want more colors. All the colors.”
Her smile was back, compliments of Nike, Coach B and Brady from Beaverton.