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Law & Basketball

Whitney Casement finds solace on the court

Published in 2021 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers Magazine

Prison ministries are nothing new, but at the Topeka Correctional Facility, Whitney Casement and her ministry group employ an unexpected method. “We actually play basketball,” says the Stevens & Brand general litigator. “The funny thing is, I was just looking for a women’s basketball league in Topeka. I heard about this and I was like, ‘That’s perfect.’ To do service through basketball, to get a chance to go into the prison, meet these women and mentor them—I was 100% on board.”

Casement played throughout high school, then intramurals in college, and has always enjoyed the sport. But when she began law school, it took on a deeper purpose. “I remember someone telling me that the best way to deal with the stress of law school was to get out of your element and go volunteer,” she says. “Whoever gave me that advice … they were absolutely right.” 

Her volunteer experience began with coaching youth basketball as part of Upward Sports, a nonprofit that partners with churches to promote youth sports ministries. “I would be so stressed, and then go coach a group of fifth and sixth graders and I wouldn’t think about law school one bit during that practice or game,” says Casement. “I’m so glad I did that. I was hooked on coaching and refereeing for a few years, then I co-directed the whole program.” 

The world of volunteer-led basketball has come with an array of pleasant surprises for Casement, the greatest being her symbiotic relationships with the people she’s serving. But, not knowing what to expect, she was intimidated when she first started with the ministry game in 2014.

“I didn’t know how serious the women in the prison would be about playing,” Casement says. “I had toured prisons before, but I had never interacted with the women in this way. It humanized them, honestly. It was great to be introduced to them in this element.”

Another surprise was the fans. “The craziest part is that you’re not only interacting with women who play basketball, but they fill the stands in the gym,” she says. “I didn’t expect we were going to have spectators, and there were at least 100 women watching. They get into it, they cheer for both sides, they call us the ‘church ladies.’ It’s very boosting for their morale.” 

Like all sports, the games get competitive; there are winners and losers. “The women at the prison practice multiple times a week during the season. For years and years, the church ladies usually won. Then there was one year where the tide kind of turned, and the women at the prison beat us for the first time,” Casement recalls. “It was like winning the Super Bowl for them, the way they celebrated. It was so meaningful because they worked so hard and accomplished something together.” 

Though she doesn’t spend a lot of time with the opposing team, Casement says it’s been rewarding to slowly develop relationships over the years. “When I’m on the bench, I like to talk to them and get to know them. I remember one woman who was working toward her college degree by mail. To see her building up her life so she’s in a better place when she’s out has been really meaningful. She inspired me, and I hope the feeling is mutual—that I inspired her.”

As play has paused during COVID-19, Casement reflects on why she got involved in the first place, and looks forward to getting back on the court.  “It’s important to give your body rest, but also your mind,” she says. “For me, volunteer work plays a big part in stress relief. You’ve got to get out of your head and do something for someone else.”

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