Senior year of high school athletics -- really the last year of high school, period -- is stressful.
Post-secondary plans, career or educational aspirations, the transition into full adulthood and more weigh on the athletes as they finish their last seasons of play.
Throw a new-born baby into the mix, and there’s even more to think about.
Elexes Contreras, a senior at Coconino High School and a member of the girls basketball team, missed her entire junior season after becoming pregnant in 2020 and giving birth to her daughter, Dahlia, in March of 2021. She and boyfriend Garrett Hagstrom, a 2021 graduate from Summit High School in Flagstaff, were unsure what the future would bring for their new family, and whether having a child would force Conteras to forgo her final year of high school hoops, among other questions.
While the couple and their families are still working through the challenge of raising an infant born to teen parents, Conteras is finishing her last year with the Panthers. She is doing it for her own good, as well as that of baby Dahlia.
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“I mostly came back with the intention of showing my daughter that she can do anything she wants, no matter what happens,” Conteras said. “I wanted to make myself an example, as soon as I had her, I still came back and worked hard and did what I wanted to do. And obviously I’ve got a lot of support from my family and my boyfriend and everyone else. But the biggest motivation is, when she’s older, to show her what she’s capable of.”
Coconino coach Cassie Schrader, who has known Conteras since she was a freshman, has been impressed with Conteras’ work ethic and desire to return to the court. Moreover, Schrader was surprised at how fast the turnaround time was.
“It was literally like a month after she had her child, she was texting me asking about getting back. I told her she needed to relax, ‘I respect you want to be here, but take it easy for a bit,’ and after a couple more weeks of her not listening to me, she was at open gym,” Schrader said. “And since then she probably showed up to 90 percent of our offseason days. She even asked me one day to open up the gym for her to work on her shot because she hadn’t played in a year.”
“I showed up to offseason practice, even though I was still doubting myself,” added Contreras. “But as I kept coming, it felt a little bit easier, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can actually do this.’”
Contreras’ teammates have taken a liking to the baby. Often, when Contreras is on the court, she can look up and see family and friends swooning over Dahlia in the stands. Teammates call her the "team baby." Schrader adds that her own mother is often watching from the bleachers, playing with Dahlia.
The support from her community, Conteras said, has made the journey much easier. It is still quite difficult to navigate life as a teen mother, though. That’s why basketball has taken an even more important role at the moment. It is simply a few hours where she can feel like a kid again.
“It’s definitely a place I can come to relieve all my stresses and stuff from being a mom. When I’m here I just think about myself and my teammates, like a little bit of my old life, and that’s really all that matters at that time,” Conteras said.
Still a young baby, there are not yet thoughts of what Dahlia will take part in when she is older. Contreras wants her to play basketball, and chuckled as she said Hagstrom wants her to skateboard. That will be decided later on, and for now the couple’s goal is to continue supporting their daughter while maintaining their own lives.
While her journey back to the court was uncertain, Conteras has stayed positive and continues to be a great teammate for the Panthers. Her story, Schrader said, will hopefully inspire Dahlia, but also Contreras’ teammates while she remains a Panther.
“They were really happy for her to be back here. We had a couple heart-to-hearts with the team and she was like, ‘I just am so glad to be at the gym with all of you, I don’t even care, I don’t want to waste this chance to show my daughter and other people that you can get through things, no matter what happens,’ and it’s really meant a lot to the other girls, you can see it.”