Clark brings spotlight to Fever and girls' game

May 14—The craze that engulfed Iowa and women's college basketball across the country the past couple of years is now shining bright in Indianapolis. Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark now brings that enthusiasm and excitement to the WNBA and basketball crazy fans in Indiana.

The Clark Era with the Fever begins Tuesday with the Fever opening the season at Connecticut against the Sun. The home opener for the Fever is Thursday against the New York Liberty.

The phenomenon around Clark has captured the sports world. This might be the most talked about and anticipated first season since Tiger Woods started his professional career on the PGA Tour.

According to the Ball State University website and a study conducted by Dr. Michael Hicks from the Miller College of Business at Ball State University, Clark's addition to the Fever roster is expected to bring an estimated 26,000 more fans to Fever games throughout the season. That increase in fans is bound to bring an obvious economic benefit to the area.

Clark's impact far exceeds the monetary benefit with all the hype. General interest in girls basketball and the WNBA is where her impact is really making it's mark.

Indiana Hall of Fame Coach Cinda Rice Brown said, "Caitlin has created a phenomenal interest in girls and women's basketball. Friends from down here (Florida) have initiated many conversations about her and even watched NCAA tournament for the first time. This unheard of interest by guys who have 'boohooed' the girls game, now can't wait to talk to me about watching her play — tickles me. I can't even imagine how her 'type' of play will influence young gals playing now and stir desire of younger ones to want to play the game."

Kayla Kessler, Assistant Director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, has seen first hand the impact of Clark on the energy and popularity around girls basketball.

"The impact of Caitlin Clark on the interest in girls basketball and in the Fever has been incredible to watch and honestly, a long time coming, in my opinion. I grew up playing girls basketball, and I'm fortunate to work in the sports industry at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, so I'm obviously pumped that Caitlin Clark got drafted by the Fever and that women's basketball is the biggest it's ever been now," Kessler said.

"Just recently, I was at a park and there were young boys shooting hoops, and I heard one of them yell 'Caitlin Clark for three!' He wasn't poking fun either; he was serious. How cool is that?" Kessler added. "I love that not only females are embracing this exciting time for women's sports, males are as well. Peyton Manning even teamed up with Clark and other star female athletes, doing a show called 'Full Court Press', and you better believe I'll be watching that."

Former Indiana All-Star and Division I player at Coastal Carolina Amanda (Stull) Garza is excited that Clark is in Indiana and the excitement around the game of basketball is even getting this former player a spark.

"I grew up watching and playing basketball, and I have watched and played with and against some amazing women. But I can honestly say that I have never watched a woman quite like Caitlin Clark before. I think sometimes women's basketball doesn't get as much viewership because it's not as 'exciting', not as high flying. But Caitlin brings a new level of excitement to the table with the degree of difficulty of some of her shots and passes," Garza said. "I am beyond excited that she has landed in Indiana. All of my children have watched her play for the last few years and they all have a Caitlin Clark Fever shirt ready to go. I will also add that I got in to coaching my oldest son this past year and have started volunteering some time with the New Palestine high school girls, so maybe Caitlin sparked my basketball heart a little too."

On the high school level, some areas of the state have seen the number of players for most sports declining. Not as many are participating. This last winter season, there were several local games that did not feature a junior varsity contest due to programs not having enough players.

Greensburg Coach Jason Simpson said, "I think the biggest positive we've seen is the energy and excitement around girls basketball in general is through the roof because of Caitlin Clark. Over the last couple of years, there has been a decline in participation across the state in girls high school basketball and I am hoping that this wave of excitement she is bringing with her to Indianapolis is going to boost those numbers. I wouldn't say I've seen a direct impact on the youth just yet, but I think if she is able to mirror her success at Iowa with the Fever then we are going to start to see that trickle down effect."

South Decatur Coach Kristen Hicks is excited about the positive energy around the girls game and Hicks feels Clark is the right person to bring along a boost in interest in the girls game. The "Clark Effect" is coming to Indiana.

"I think it's amazing what Clark can do on the floor. She's clearly an amazing shooter, distributor and floor leader. Her ability to make everyone around her better is what makes her great. I also love how she handles herself off the court. She manages the attention and pressure with poise. Her style of play has already proven to be impactful at the next level for the Fever early on in their preseason games," Hicks said.

"Although the veterans in the WNBA laid the foundation, Clark is the one to take it to the next level. The eyes she has put on the women's game is at an all time high," Hicks added. "The 'Clark Effect' is in full force. You hear people talk about the games and players now. People are excited to get to the Fever games and cheer on their favorite players, specifically Clark. As a varsity girls coach, we have seen the decline in players over the last several years. Although we may not see a huge shift right now in our high school numbers, I think we will eventually see growth with the younger players. She has inspired a whole generation of young players," Hicks said.

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