Yolanda Laney had a maternal instinct that her daughter, Petunia, would stand out in the world of basketball. She found out during a practice session at Mallory Recreation Center in East Germantown, when little Petya stopped by to tell her mom, “I love basketball!”
“I’ve got it now,” Yolanda said. “I didn’t tell her, but I knew as soon as she told me, I could take her outside to practice, get her to run, hit the ball, pass. It wouldn’t be a problem, because I knew now since she told me she loved the game, she was going to rise as high as possible.”
Petnya who now He plays for New York LibertyShe spent seven seasons in the WNBA, receiving a number of honors throughout her career. Most recently, she received the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award for the work she has been doing off the court.
Since joining Liberty ahead of the 2021 season, Betnijah has used its platform to elevate the league and engage with the New York community, with a primary focus on child development and youth education. Partnered with Coalition for Change to help families access educational support, mental health services, financial literacy, and job placement.
Yolanda has always expressed herself The importance of youth sports for her daughter And he wanted Petnya to give back to the next generation of athletes. Clayton’s family, Dale, grew up watching her mom coach at recreation centers or AAU teams in Delaware, Philly, and NJ while also taking the time to improve her Betnijah game.
“We were lucky enough to have our needs met, but you see people around you who don’t have the same opportunity,” said Petnya. “Everyone deserves to have some kind of resource. That’s just something my mom always gave to the community through basketball.
“Her focus was on bringing basketball back to letting kids know the game. I grew up seeing my mom do everything she did for the community, it’s just something that stuck with me.”
The Germantown native went to City College Collegiate School, which closed in 2013. She led the team to three Public League basketball championships and was named Most Valuable Player in the Public League as a junior and senior in 1977-78.
Yolanda also played in the historic Sonny Hill League. She participated in the John Chaney-Sonny Hill basketball camp until her junior year when Hill started a girls’ program called the Developmental Basketball League.
“A lot of girls all over Philadelphia played basketball,” Yolanda said. “It was a great competition there because you played against all the crowds, you played against all the Catholics in one week.”
Laney played for Cheyenne University (then Cheyenne State), where she captained the women’s team First NCAA Women’s Championship Game in 1982.
During a home visit, 20-year-old Yolanda decided to take part in the training. After a year and a half abroad, she began teaching skills in a developmental basketball league while pursuing her law degree at Temple.
“My goal when I saw all these inner-city kids on the playground was for this to be a way to help them get an education, a scholarship to college,” said Yolanda.
“If they develop their skills and become strong players, it will be a way where they don’t have to take out any loans, they don’t have to stress about their mom or going to college.”
She became close to Staley, who competed in the league. Staley, a North Philly native, Yolanda is remembered as one of the few who made sure the girls had a platform to play in the Sonny Hill League, and that exposure helped Staley get recruited by colleges.
She was very serious. Staley said, laughing. “But she was serious about basketball. She was serious about making sure we had the chances. She didn’t just coach us, she taught us how to play.”
“There weren’t a lot of people out there who were doing what she was doing, which meant leading the way, leading the charge in being able to express ourselves in basketball. … I played in big games in high school and college, and it was a lot easier to navigate.” Because of the big games that were on display in DBL.”
When Yolanda gave birth to her children – Petnia and her brother Shukris – she wanted them to take advantage of those opportunities, like getting a college scholarship, if they wanted to play the game. (Tenja ended up playing at Rutgers.) Laney’s kids accompanied every practice session their mom had, eventually tying up their laces and catching a ball to join in.
Yolanda credits her desire to give back to those who mentored her as a child, and Petnya hopes to continue following in her mother’s footsteps—in more than just basketball, but in life.
“I haven’t seen my mother play,” she said. “I just heard great things about her, talking about the player she was, the competitor she was, her personality on and off the field. For her to kind of spend time with me and help me get to where she was, following in her footsteps, I’m forever grateful.”