Clark's presence having effect on local girls sports

May 17—Months before the Indiana Fever selected Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, the former Iowa guard was already changing how women's basketball was viewed in the Hoosier state.

"(People at school) would be like, 'Hey, did you watch the (Iowa) game last night?'" Alexandria junior girls basketball player Jacklynn Hosier said. "It's awesome to see the game growing."

But now that Clark — who made her home debut Thursday — calls Indianapolis her home, has the impact across the state transcended to high school girls athletics and the way they are viewed?

To area players and coaches, the answer is a resounding yes.

"We have been waiting for something like this for a long time. I feel like women's sports have been put on the back burner for a while," Daleville athletic director, boys basketball coach and former girls basketball coach Ashley Fouch said. "But what I love most about (Clark) is that she is giving youth girls and women's sports value and self-worth almost."

Multiple Madison County schools have struggled to see an increase in the numbers of girls sports. One of those is Liberty Christian, which has been unable to field a girls basketball team the last two seasons due to a lack of participants.

In 2022, the Lions hired former Ball State men's basketball player Malik Perry to take over the program, but since then, he has been an assistant for the boys' squad while he waits for the numbers to rebound.

However, even schools that have girls' teams are now seeing their rosters increase.

In her first season (2021-22) at Elwood, Panthers basketball coach Courtney Lickliter started with six girls. The following season, the roster was at 13. Last season, the Panthers started with 15 players.

While she's not sure the numbers rose due to Clark and the movement around the girls' game, she has noticed other things that have changed in the area since No. 22 became a well-known athlete, especially when it comes to men.

"I've been around basketball for 37 years, and I have never heard this many men and boys who have been excited about female sports and are not ashamed about it," Lickliter said. "Women have always been excited and tried to be champions of our sports. It's cool to see that guys are getting behind it."

Alexandria athletic director Mickey Hosier — Jacklynn's father — has watched the change from two perspectives.

On the work side of things, he has seen more support for girls' sports. He also believes the success Madison County girls' teams like Lapel girls basketball — which made it to the 2022-23 state finals == and Pendleton Heights softball — which made it to the 2023 semistate championship game — have had in the past have played a big role as well.

As the father of three daughters, he has also seen it from a dad's point of view.

"One neat thing is that you're not just seeing (these female athletes) as athletes. You're seeing who they are," Mickey Hosier said. "You're seeing their families and getting their backstory. Kids can see that she's a great basketball player, but she's an even better teammate and a great student."

While Clark's impact might take effect on the court, Fouch hopes it may have some impact on the sideline as well.

"I wish that more women would sign up to coach boys basketball," she said. "I would encourage any woman who wants to be the head coach of a men's or boys' program because they might like it. There's no reason why you shouldn't feel like you're not qualified to do it."

When Clark and the Hawkeyes played the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington on Feb. 22, the third-year Broncos coach was in attendance. The atmosphere in Assembly Hall was something she'd never experienced before.

"(The environment) shook me to my core, and I almost started crying," she said. "People are coming to watch her. The environment was awesome because people wanted to watch her across the nation."

While high school girls' athletes like Jacklynn Hosier are seeing the "Clark Effect," it goes beyond teenagers.

"The younger generation of Daleville can see it. She is definitely the face of a super fire that is coming out in youth sports at the moment," Fouch said. "If I walk down to our elementary school right now and ask who Caitlin Clark is, they would probably start yelling because they love her so much."

Whether it's girls or boys, women or men, the way Clark's journey from Iowa to the Fever was covered by the media put a new face on the market for Indiana residents to enjoy, especially for basketball.

"We in Indiana just want to see good basketball," Lickliter said. "It's the one thing I love about Indiana. We really don't care who it is. We just want it to be fundamental, hardworking and good basketball."