Sports Story

How Youth Sports Helped My Family Heal After 9/11

By Melissa Wickes
September 11, 2023
3 min

One of my favorite sounds in the world is a sneaker squeaking on the floor. When I was in college—if I was experiencing anxiety—I would often go into my friend’s room to watch a college or NBA game because the sound of the sneakers squeaking on the court oddly calmed me down. I have to assume the reason for the calming feeling I get when I hear that sound is because I grew up with a lot of happy memories surrounding basketball—whether it was attending CYO practices that my dad coached, high school games where I could always hear him yelling “DRIBBLE!” from the stands, or going to see other school’s games so I could learn from the players.

My dad is a 9/11 survivor. He worked on the 84th floor of the South Tower (the second tower to be hit, the first to come down) and he walked down the stairs and across the Williamsburg Bridge to come home to my family that morning. He lost 60 colleagues and dozens of friends—including his childhood best friend, Michael, who was the best man at his and my mom’s wedding. Michael was killed in the North Tower, and my dad was on the phone with him when it was hit.

As one can imagine, the horrors of that day didn’t end when he got out of the building. PTSD, survivor guilt, panic attacks, and depression plagued both of my parents for years after, and our family didn’t get on a plane for five years after the attacks. The first time my dad returned to Ground Zero was in 2016 to visit the museum. He has also lost friends since the attacks to 9/11-induced cancer.

While I didn’t lose my dad physically that day, I often think about how I could have easily lost him mentally in the days that followed. He could have succumbed to his mental health struggles and I would have missed out on 20 years of basketball practices, Yankee games, breakfast sandwiches, car rides to and from the city, and sharing music on Spotify. Luckily, we didn’t lose him in that way either, and I think we owe a lot of that to youth sports.

“One of the things that helped me to get through 9/11 was my involvement in youth sports. I had the opportunity to coach my kids and many of the neighborhood kids—it allowed me into their families,” my dad, Bill Wickes, who has since become a high school math teacher, says. “It gave me a focus on what to do, how not to only think about what had happened.” 

Watch the rest of what he has to say about the how youth sports had a healing effect on him here:

If you ask 10 people from the neighborhood I grew up in if my dad coached or refereed one of their games growing up, at least 9 would say yes. The connections he has built through youth sports have supported him through some of the darkest times, and by association, they have supported me, my brother, and my mom, too. He has been a Math teacher—his other passion in life—for the last 18 years, and he is now at a place where he can tell his story to students in his classroom, friends, and even on tours when he volunteers at the 9/11 Museum.

Being able to bond with my dad through a shared interest, to learn from him, and to see him connect with so many members of our community through sports is something that I feel extremely fortunate to have. More than anything, though, I am fortunate that he has been able to heal from such an insurmountable tragedy. Knowing that LeagueApps is creating those same kinds of memories and mental health benefits for so many families out there is what makes me so proud to be a part of this team.