Lyons grows from international competitions in basketball and volleyball

— Photo submitted by Shayla Lyons

“It felt like being famous,” says Shayla Lyons, right, of how excited the athletes in Georgia were to play basketball against Americans. Lyons traveled to the former Soviet country to help promote the Police Athletic League.

WESTERLO — Shayla Lyons says every decision she makes is based around how it will affect the sports she plays and her future in those sports.

The rising high school senior, who has transferred from Bishop Maginn to Berne-Knox-Westerlo for her last year, plays three different sports at a high level — volleyball, basketball, and track and field.

This summer alone she won a state title in shot put, played basketball in Georgia — the former Soviet country — and volleyball in Iowa on a high performance team. She’s been playing in a basketball league in the Hilltowns and practicing with BKW’s volleyball team.

Lyons became interested in sports when her brother started playing Pop Warner Football and she, at age 7, found herself watching his practices with nothing to do.

Her parents asked her if she wanted to try cheerleading and she said she had “an amazing coach” who taught her to appreciate the sport, which she participated in for nine years.

When she reached middle school and had a larger variety of sports to choose from she signed up to try a handful of activities.

“I fell in love with literally every sport I signed up for,” said Lyons. “I kept thinking I’d just try things and narrow it down based on what I liked, but I liked everything.”

She said she always felt like she was built for sports, and was blessed in that way, but also that “sports are more mentality than physicality.

“If you have the desire to get better, then you do,” said Lyons.

She used her desire to get better to rocket herself to the top of her sports, competing in sectional and state championships on her high school teams.

In mid-June, she won the small-school title for girls’ shot put at the state championships held by the New York State Public High School Association.

Her former coach, then, said she had “more drive than a lot of athletes.”

“It felt like being famous”

Recognized for her athletic talents, and for her positive attitude, she was invited by the Police Athletic League of Albany to travel to Georgia to help demonstrate the program.

PAL is a national organization that provides recreational and educational juvenile crime prevention programs.

“It helps kids have a better connection with the police department,” said Lyons. “Georgia has had problems in the past with people trusting the police force and they are trying to show that they can trust them.”

Basketball, she said, is big in PAL. It is a universally-known game that most of the children who participate in the program, after school, love to play.

The trip to Georgia, she said, was funded by the United States Embassy and a charitable woman in Vermont.

“I had no idea what we would be doing or what to expect,” said Lyons, who thought at first she was being asked to go to Georgia, the state.

When she, and the other selected students, got to Georgia, they had a meeting with teachers, police officers, and coaches there to discuss how PAL is run in the United States.

Then, they played in basketball tournaments around the country for four days, sometimes competing in seven games each day.

“Before we went there they held tournaments among the Georgian teams and the winners of those games got to play us,” said Lyons. “The kids were so excited to see us it felt like being famous.”

In some locations, she said, the basketball courts were well kept and the views were gorgeous; in others, poverty was apparent.

“There was one particular court that had a peeling floor and all the chairs were broken and you could tell the kids didn’t even know what a good court looked like,” Lyons said. “But those were the kids who worked the hardest to be good at basketball.”

Most of the players did not have athletic wear or proper sneakers.

“It was really eye opening to see them try so hard when they haven’t had many opportunities,” said Lyons. “Really, what we view as poverty would be a blessing to them.”

The country, despite its poverty, was breathtakingly gorgeous, she said.

“Everyone was so friendly and it was amazing to interact with another culture,” she said. “It really made me understand this world is so much bigger than I ever imagined. I would do the trip all over again in a heartbeat.”

“The most brutal five days”

Very shortly after returning from Georgia, Lyons had to prepare for a trip to Iowa, where she played in volleyball tournaments on a high performance team with the Iroquois-Empire Volleyball Association, known as IREVA.

She has played volleyball during her three years of high school but this was her first year playing club volleyball.

She had an initial tryout to play with IREVA in Saratoga.

“I didn’t expect anything, I was just trying to learn, but I got lucky and got invited to try out in Lake Placid, at the Olympic Training Center,” she said. “It was so cool to be right where the Olympians played, but I really thought that’s where my journey would end.”

When she found out she had been invited to Iowa to play in the high performance championships, Lyons said, she cried.

“It blew my mind that they even considered having me,” said Lyons.

She was sent to Oneonta, to a five-day training and placement camp, with the other athletes selected for the championships.

“It was the most brutal five days of my life,” she said. “It was great training, though.”

Lyons was placed on the youth international team, so, when she got to Iowa, she played against others teams from around the world.

Her team won two full games — eight sets.

“We were the first team from our region to win a game in five years,” she said. “The whole experience just doesn’t seem real.

“I’ve learned so much and gotten so much better, but I still have so much more to learn and grow.”

Lyons’s dedication to being an athlete would not be possible without what she refers to as “a support system like no other.”


Shayla Lyons, looking through pictures of her Iowa competitions with her father, Bill, says her parents haven’t missed a game since she started playing sports 10 years ago, she said. — Anne Hayden Harwood


"If I need a ride to practice or to the gym, my parents are right there,” she said. “I literally don’t think they have missed a game since I started sports at 7.”

Her personal motivation, though, comes from within.

“I am excited about almost every single day that I go into because I know I will do something to improve myself and get better,” she said. “I just have this thought process of, ‘I want to do this, so I am going to do this.’”

It’s more than just a hobby, she said. It’s a lifestyle.

“I think practicing and what you do when your coaches aren’t around is so important,” she said. “You have to be passionate.”

She said she plans to be involved in sports, one way or another, for the rest of her life.

“If I ever can’t play, she said, “I hope I will be helping others who want to.”

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