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Cal guard Mikayla Lyles has worked dilligently to plan this week's LGBT inclusion panels.
Courtesy: GoldenBearSports.com
Cal, Stanford Come Together For LGBT Inclusion
Courtesy: Cal Athletics  
Release:  01/27/2014

By Jonathan Okanes

Cal Bear Blog

Before last fall, former Stanford guard Toni Kokenis didn’t know much about Mikayla Lyles other than she was a main reason the Cardinal had its 81-game conference winning streak snapped last season.

The two have gotten to know each other a lot better since then, and together are determined to make a difference in a profound way.

Lyles, Cal’s sharpshooting senior guard, has worked with Kokenis to plan two We A.R.E Pride Inclusion Panels, a pair of events aimed at perpetuating the discussion regarding the role of LGBT in sports. The first panel, which will feature prominent figures in the LGBT in sports movement, takes place Tuesday night at the Field Club at Memorial Stadium. The second panel is hosted by Stanford on Wednesday night.

“Some of the greatest people I know in my life and some of my best friends go through this struggle every day,” Lyles said. “It wouldn’t be a testament to our friendship if I wasn’t going to want to go through that with them. They’ve been such an element in my life that I’d want to do the same for them. My passion comes from that personal relationship that I’ve had with those people.”

Lyles’ passion for this project has roots in work she did last summer with Br{ache the Silence, an organization seeking to turn homophobia into inclusion in sports. Lyles and former teammate Layshia Clarendon appeared in a public service announcement, and Kokenis, who played at Stanford until midway through last season when she had to medically retire due to concussion problems, saw it online.

Kokenis send Lyles a message on Facebook asking about her involvement in the cause and offering to help. As it turned out, Kokenis happened to be in Berkeley when she sent the message and the two met for coffee the next day.

“I’ve probably never worked with anyone as dedicated and passionate, and with as much drive to get things done,” Kokenis said. “I completely trust her judgment or thoughts on any project. She’s really, really driven to make this a success.”

Lyles and Kokenis actually attended a basketball camp together while in high school. Lyles then scored a career-high 14 points in Cal’s 67-55 win over the Cardinal last January, ending Stanford’s Pac-12 winning streak that spanned nearly four years.

“She was one of the main reasons we lost to them,” Kokenis said. “She was always on the scouting report.”

Lyles, who is interested in film production, originally went to Br{ache the Silence to work as a grip assistant for the PSA. But after making an impression on the staff, she wound up in front of the camera to talk about the cause.

Lyles has continued to work closely with Br{ache the Silence executive director Nevin Caple, who will be a member of this week’s panels.

“When Mik was in Br{ache the Silence Campaign’s PSA, ‘ALL IN,’ her message renovated,” Caple said. “Women, coaches and student-athletes alike were moved, hooked, connected and felt empowered. It was then I knew she was a gift to the community. She’s a gem and she’s changing the world.”

Lyles and Kokenis hit it off immediately during their coffee meeting in Berkeley, and Lyles said “the snowball just started really fast.” They immediately started discussing the idea of organizing panels to perpetuate the conversation and enhance exposure to the issues.

“We wanted to do something to use both of our schools and the Bay Area community,” Lyles said. “We just started throwing out ideas of how we can get more people involved and how we can use our platform of being student-athletes to our advantage.”

Tuesday’s panel will be accompanied by a photo exhibit featuring Cal and Stanford student-athletes together. Lyles said it makes a powerful statement that rival schools can come together for a common cause.

“The essence of it really is to show the unity and support between both athletic student bodies,” she said. “The point of it is despite being rivals or despite being athletes that compete against each other day in and day out, we can come together and support a social issue of equality on a level through college athletics that is really important.”

Lyles has spent a lot of time planning this week’s events, working with other groups on campus including the Student-Athlete Gay Straight Alliance. Add in her usual demanding workload of school and basketball, and the dedication she has exhibited is a clear reflection of her passion for the project.

“She’s really had to figure out how to balance everything the past four months,” Cal associate athletic director Jenny Simon-O’Neill said. “What has been amazing to watch over the past four months has been her vision turn into a reality. She’s done a remarkable of pulling all this together.”


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