|Tabb's Yasmeen Amer (Kaitlin McKeown, Daily Press / February 2, 2012)|
And, as a typical teenager, she was anxious for her peers to admire her hair and fashion sense. As her faith and self-assurance has grown, Yasmeen has packed those concerns away with her baby dolls.
"At first I didn't want to do it, but it grew on me," said Yasmeen, a Tabb sophomore, of wearing a hijab. "I cared about what my friends would think and whether I'd lose my friends.
"Then I came to realize, 'You know what? They're not my friends if they don't accept me as who I am.' "
Yasmeen is very much accepted by her teammates on the Tabb High junior varsity girls basketball team. For one thing, she is an excellent defender although she's playing basketball for the first time.
What they love most about her is her bubbly personality and boundless enthusiasm. The preconception some Americans have that Muslim women are shy because of their covering does not come close to fitting Yasmeen.
"Yasmeen has a very, very positive attitude," Tabb JV girls coach Megan Stangroom said. "One game she wasn't here, and it was so quiet without her high energy, clapping and positivity around.
"I love to put her out there when we need to get some sort of tempo on defense. Then all the sudden we're playing with more intensity, because when one person steps up, everybody wants to."
Said Laura Barber, a Tabb guard, "She's a very energetic girl. She's always the one pumping us up before and after games."
Yasmeen went out for the JV basketball team this season because Barber and Tabb varsity player Brooke Mahan convinced her she could be good at it. Yameen's attitude was typically sunny.
"I thought, 'Why not? What's going to stop me?' " she said.
Positive attitude not withstanding, basketball is not easy to master when you begin nearing your 16th birthday. So Yasmeen immediately gravitated toward the part of the game you can become good at quickly with hustle and enthusiasm: defense. She is working hard to become a better shooter, passer and dribbler.
"I'll look at a move a girl just did and tell myself, 'I'm going home and practice that so I can be just as good as she is,' " Yasmeen said. "I've always picked up sports pretty quickly for some reason.
"Soccer is my main sport, so I'm a fast runner."
Yasmeen started for Tabb last week in a win over Bruton. Her athleticism was apparent in the several steals and rebounds she had, although she did not score.
She stood out in another way: In addition to covering her hair, Yasmeen wore a long-sleeved white shirt under her jersey and black leggings beneath her shorts, because Muslim females who wear hijab must also cover their skin. Because she wears yoga pants under her shorts in practice, her teammates have nicknamed her "Yasercize."
Yasmeen, the consummate teammate, accepts the moniker with a smile.
"I love to cheer my team on and I love every single person on it," she said. "They're like my inspiration and I want to do everything I can to encourage them."
Some, she senses, are not so accepting of her attire or the Muslim faith it represents. She has learned not to take the occasional double-takes to heart.
"Honestly, you always get those looks, whispers and stares," she said. "You just take it, brush it off and say, 'That's just who I am.'
"As I became stronger in my religion and matured, it didn't matter what people thought of me. It's between me and God.
"My faith guides me and helps me with decisions I need to make. If I question something, I go and repent to God and ask him for advice, and he's always there."
Yasmeen, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Egypt in the early 1970s, prays five times a day. She leans on prayer most when she's stressed out about school.
She's doing very well academically, with a 4.1 grade point average and ambitions of becoming an anesthesiologist. She balances religious devotion and studying with basketball, soccer and lots of time for her friends.
Yasmeen fits in perfectly with her teammates and friends, even if her attire sets her apart. So her days of feeling self-conscious about wearing a hijab appear to be permanently behind her.
"I can do whatever I want, as a normal American teenager does, but with my scarf," Yasmeen said. "I love to hang out with my friends, play sports and go to movies.
"It doesn't hold me back from anything."