Let the girl dunk! Let the girl dunk!” cheers a crowd of elementary school kids. Camdyn N. Roberts (’21), the first female member of BYU’s dunk team, launches off a trampoline, flips, and—hair flying—slams the ball in the basket. After the team’s performance, a teacher asks the students what they liked most. One girl raises her hand and, pointing to Roberts, says, “My favorite part was that you could do all the things that the boys could do.”
A year ago Roberts thought her jumping days were over. After competing as a pole vaulter since ninth grade, she was cut from BYU’s track and field team. But her bad news was dunk team coach David J. Eberhard’s good fortune. Eberhard had been trying to recruit female athletes to the all-male squad and invited Roberts to practice. “Taking what felt like a massive failure and turning it into an opportunity to do something that no one had ever done before was an emotional roller coaster,” says Roberts. “I was afraid of failing again, but I just decided to go for it, and it has been one of the best things I have ever done.”
For nearly a decade the BYU dunk team has wowed audiences, adorning slam dunks with flips, theatrical passes, and jumps over teammates. Pole-vaulting skills transfer well, providing “a body awareness in the air,” says Roberts. “I was pole vaulting 12 feet, so I wasn’t really afraid of jumping high in the air and dunking.”
And she’s learning from the team. “I have, like, 15 coaches,” Roberts says. “If ever I’m working on something, I’ll do it, and then I’ll have six guys come up to me and be like, ‘You need to do this and this,’ or, ‘That was so good, but keep working.’ They’re my biggest cheerleaders.”
When she first joined, Roberts worried the dunk team would be a boy’s club. “But seriously, within the first five minutes of me being there, I just felt so welcomed,” Roberts says.
For years that same trepidation stopped Hannah Christopherson Millard (’20) from joining her husband, Stephan Millard (’20), on the team, despite his encouragement. “There were no girls on the team, and I felt weird about it,” Millard says. “But when Camdyn joined the team, I got that extra push to just go for it.” Millard is now the second female on the team.
“I love the guys,” says Roberts, “but it’s fun having another girl.” They hope more women will join the ranks, as does Eberhard, who says that female members help the team to connect with audiences. “It hits closer to home,” he says, particularly for the women in the crowd. “It’s like watching a movie that now all of a sudden has characters that are relatable.”
Unlike most sports, the dunk team isn’t competitive. “That’s the coolest part for me,” Roberts says. “With dunking, it’s not necessarily just about you and what you can do, but it’s about sharing it with everybody else and trying to motivate and inspire people.”