Bridget Hamlett knows the value of sports ---- how they teach kids about togetherness, commitment, sacrifice, and effort. For more than 30 years, she has dedicated her life to youth sports in Person County, not simply to produce great athletes, but to produce future community leaders who will understand what it takes to be part of a strong community. Here's her story.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) My upbringing in Person County had it’s positives and negatives, but overall I came out ok. Athletics has really been the main feature of my life since my childhood, which is funny because neither my parents, nor my grandparents who helped raise me, were athletes. But my older siblings and I have always been into sports and athletics has been a big part of our lives. I started participating in organized sports here at the age of 7, so from age 7 to age 49 not much has changed in that aspect.
I came up in Person County Schools of course. I started off at South Elementary School. We were the Trojans. From there, I went to Southern Junior High. Go Panthers. I played basketball there from seventh grade through ninth grade. And then I became a Rocket at Person Senior High School where I continued to play basketball. I was part of a really strong team there at Person, led by Wendy Palmer who went on to play for the University of Virginia and then play in the WNBA.
Before I played school ball though, I played rec ball under Dorothy Pulliam for several years. We were called the Red Sox. And at the time we were playing, we were the only Black team in the county, and the racism we encountered was terrible. We used to get knocked down, we used to get kicked, spit on, everything. But going through that actually made me stronger because they were knocking us down but they couldn’t keep us down. We stayed strong and always jumped back up.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) I graduated from high school in 1991, but while I was still a senior in high school, I started coaching youth sports. I don’t know if a lot of people know that but, yeah, I was still 18 when I started coaching youth here in Person County. My oldest sister Bernice got me involved in it. She was working at Parks & Rec at the time, so I started working alongside her. Then after Bernice left Parks & Rec, she started coaching with the Roxboro Reds athletic organization, which was started by Willie Farrish. So my brother Melvin and I also started coaching with the Roxboro Reds. And my mom was kind of a mother figure of the program. She was a really big supporter. And actually it was the conversations that I would have with my mom during that time that really motivated me to work with kids. When I first started coaching, she saw how frustrating it was. And she told me, “You’re a young lady, 18-years-old, just coming out of high school, coaching kids. You don’t see too much of that. So you have to continue to help them, because if you don’t who will?” So she encouraged me to stay with it and once I started coaching with the Roxboro Reds the kids started flocking to me. They really became attached to me because I was young and I could relate to them.
During that time, I went to PCC and graduated with a certificate in computer operations. After that, I went to work at Cormetech with my sister Bernice and my brother-in-law, John. But after a year being there, a position opened up at Parks and Rec in Person County. So I started back working with Parks and Rec and I have been here ever since.
Even after all these years, when I get around these kids, they are like my angels. They are the fulfilment of the things my mom used to tell me back then. That’s why I’m still doing this after all these years. Kids bring out the best in you. Now adults…I must say that there have been times when I became frustrated with how adults treated certain kids in this county. Black kids. It has, at times, reminded me of my rec ball experience and the lack of fairness that we had to deal with. But I don’t even have to reach back that far because to this day I still have to deal with that nonsense myself. After 27 years of working with the county, I still have people trying to knock me down. But it doesn’t work. I’m not going to fold. Because with some of the things I have seen, I feel like I have to help these kids. It’s like my mom said, if I don’t do it, I don’t know if anyone else will.
There are so many kids in our community who need love and support, especially our girls. I have heard from young girls that people have told them they couldn’t do certain things because they are girls. Still in 2022, there are people out here intimidating our young girls and making them feel less than. They really need our support, probably more now than ever. Many of the girls I come across are going through things in their personal life, going through things that they shouldn’t be going through, and going through them alone. I think maybe it’s because a lot of women grew up at a time when they were denied certain opportunities and experiences, didn’t have anyone supporting their dreams, and they’ve passed that misery down to the next generation. So history is repeating itself when it doesn’t have to. I was blessed. I had a household full of supporters with my parents and older siblings. So I just want to pass that on to the next generation.
Right now my work with Parks & Rec is focused on preschoolers and I think that’s where I can best serve this community. That’s our future—these really young kids. Bettering our community starts with these kids. Teaching them about teamwork, unity, right and wrong, it starts here. We can’t wait until they get older and they’ve learned how to hate and be selfish before we start trying to teach them to work together. That’s got to start now and sports is the perfect teacher. Also, sports build confidence and we want our children to believe in themselves, so we have to build that up early.
I’m starting with kids ages 3 and 4. I’m doing what I would call sports clinics, because they are too young to really have full competitive seasons. So I’ve worked with them on learning soccer, T-ball, and basketball—teaching the fundamentals. Parks & Rec started the program around 2010 on sort of a trial basis and then really committed to it around 2013. They are four-week clinics during each sports’ season and the preschoolers come and learn the fundamentals of the sport. The goal of it was that once I fed the kids the fundamentals, when they got to the organized sports the coaches would carry that on. Now, throughout the last couple of years I’m not really seeing that, and it upsets me a little bit. I want our kids to be coached and taught the right way. Which means we need more coaches in Parks & Rec. That’s really more important than having all these coaches at the school level because sports start in Parks & Rec and I want kids to have a good start. But when you can’t control things, you just have to pray about it and go on.
But I realize now that my calling is going to be working with preschoolers. Over the last few years I have had a lot of encouragement from parents about my efforts, and it’s really given me a heart for this work.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) Women are intelligent, beautiful, and strong minded, but for so long we’ve been made to feel less than. Obviously, men and women have physical differences but whatever a man can accomplish with his mind and his talents, a woman can accomplish as well. And I think we as women need to come together even more to support one another and support our young girls, because as I said, there are still people trying to put limitations on our young girls. From the sports perspective, I want young ladies to see what women are capable of. We have women officiating in the NBA and the NFL, female assistant coaches in men’s leagues, and of course we have an example of a professional athlete in our own Wendy Palmer. We can be principals, police officers, ministers, anything out there as far as occupations, we can do it. But we have to support one another.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) My hope in this county is for us to come together. I don’t think we will have real unity in my lifetime, but I want to see us come together enough to work together for growth in this county. I see some changes, and I know it’s a slow process, but we need to get going if we want a real future here. That’s why I try to spread positivity when I interact with people, or when I’m on social media. Because when people see and feel positivity in our community, maybe they will gravitate toward it and we can see the good in each other. Right now I see a lot of racism. I want to use positivity to move that racism out of the way so that we can come together. So that all of us can come together. When people of all skin colors can have an equal role in creating the future of this county, then we will have a bright future.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) Keep your head up, never let anyone put you down, and you can do whatever you put your mind to.