When Baileigh Sinaman-Daniel was cut from her high school basketball team as a senior, her future in athletics seemed in doubt. After all, not many college programs were looking for a one-armed guard with admittedly limited offensive skills.
But Sinaman-Daniel is not one to back away from a challenge. Determined to keep playing competitive basketball, the Stafford, Va., native reached out to numerous coaches, including Warren Wilson College coach Robin Martin. Martin offered her a roster spot with the Division III Lady Owls.
Now a sophomore, Sinaman-Daniel hopes her journey will inspire and educate others.
“When it comes to speaking about the arm, I’ve never really been too shy about it,” she says. “Things like this need to be spoken about because there’s not a lot of people in this world who can vocalize situations like this. I would be more than happy to educate people on it.”
Sinaman-Daniel spoke with Xpress about the challenges of playing basketball with one arm, how she hopes to inspire young athletes and what her plans are when her playing days are over.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Xpress: What got you interested in being an athlete?
Sinaman-Daniel: I’ve been a fan of sports since I was around the age of 6 or 7 because my dad was a really big fan of watching basketball. I ended up really liking the sport because of LeBron James, but I didn’t start playing until my freshman year of high school because I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me on the court. So I didn’t know if I would be able to execute properly the way they would expect somebody with two arms to. So I kind of held myself back throughout middle school, but when it came to high school, I tried out for the team, and I luckily made it.
What inspired you to go for it?
It was a mixture of things. My best friend at the time was a basketball player, and she found out that I really liked watching the sport. And she pushed me to say, “Screw what people say and see what happens; the worst they can say is no.” And also, it was a thing at my high school where we really didn’t have a lot of girls who tried out for basketball, so our school needed players. They were trying to find people who had potential and hadn’t tried out yet, so [my friend] thought I was one of those people.
I had played volleyball in the fall, before I played basketball, so I already was a little more comfortable playing with other people and playing sports in general. But basketball was a different type of mentality because it really has a lot of ball movement and you have to have a good basketball IQ. I had to slowly develop that, but with time it came.
What was your high school experience like?
My first two years, I was put on junior varsity and my junior year, which was our COVID season, I played varsity. My senior year I tried out and got cut, which I was really upset about. But after a couple of days, I took it upon myself to make a highlight reel of me doing anything that was seen as good on the court: a good pass, a rebound, even a shot. But most of my film that I sent out to [college] coaches was defensive work.
How did you end up playing for Warren Wilson?
After about two months of me sending out my film to multiple coaches throughout the country, Coach Martin was one of the first to respond back with a firm yes. That was one thing that really stood out to me, that she took it upon herself to give me a shot. She invited me on a visit, and after that I went to a “prospect day,” which is where they brought all the recruits that they were looking at for that year and basically let them practice to see how they performed. Then Coach Martin asked me if I would like to be on the team, and I said “yes” with no hesitation.
What are some of the challenges of playing basketball with one arm?
One of the biggest challenges for me personally is confidence with shooting. I feel like offense is a very vulnerable place for me because I don’t have that right arm to really protect myself or to push off the defender if I do have the ball. But Coach Martin has helped me develop my game on the offensive side of the court.
I obviously want to be the best that I can be, and sometimes I feel like I get a little bit hard on myself because I want to do just as well as everybody else. But then I have to remember I might have to take a little bit longer to do these things because I have one arm, and that’s fine. So there are little mental challenges on top of the offensive [challenges].
Do you think you can be an inspiration for young people who are dealing with similar issues and are interested in getting involved with sports?
I definitely would love to be an inspiration to younger people. It would be a really big thing for me if one kid who looks like me and thinks the same way that I did — that I could never play this sport because nobody looks like me on the court — could see me playing and could get the confidence to do it. I want to show people that you can do whatever you put your mind to and, as long as you bet on yourself, there’s nothing that can stop you.
What’s your experience been like at Warren Wilson?
The faculty here is absolutely amazing, and they’re really accommodating when it comes to not just being a student-athlete, but also just a person with one arm. If I ask for help, they never hesitate to put in the effort. And the campus here is also very beautiful. The mountains are so pretty. I’m from [eastern] Virginia, so it’s a pretty flat land over there.
I’m majoring in psychology and I have a minor in political science and history. After I graduate, I intend to go to graduate school. My main objective after all the schooling is to become a forensic psychologist.
How do you think your experience as an athlete will help you going forward?
Basketball and the mental aspect of it have shown me how to be resilient with anything I do, and it really has instilled a sense of confidence within myself. Just knowing that I am able to play NCAA Division III basketball is crazy enough to say. So I feel like, in my head, I’ve reached my main goal and there’s nothing but up from here.