Once upon a time: Terri Mateer's story is funny, uplifting, heartbreaking
BRATTLEBORO — Terri Mateer has a knack for painting a picture in your mind, whether she's sharing about her first few days as an eighth-grader in Brattleboro or talking about playing in pick-up basketball games at Florida State University with the likes of Deion Sanders.
She has told the story about her extraordinary life roughly 400 times on stage, letting her audiences know about her experiences with modeling, stripping, and playing hoops professionally. The 1983 Brattleboro Union High School graduate will perform that off-Broadway show once again at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River.
"I get excited every time I perform it," said Mateer, whose maiden name is McCarty. "The point of the show is to be kind to one another."
About 40 years after it happened, she remembers the feeling of walking the halls of Brattleboro's junior high school for the first time. It was way bigger than the school in Putney she was accustomed to, and she felt like an outsider. She remembers when her future BUHS teammate Ann Wheelock approached her and encouraged her to go out for the basketball team.
"I will never forget that reach-out," said Mateer, who was just over six feet tall by the time she was 12. "Once I joined the team, I felt like I had a place to be in the world."
That place was down low, near the basket, where she would master posting up and boxing out. She eventually attended a basketball camp in Newfane and would have two shoeboxes filled with college recruitment letters by the ninth grade.
"I was always trying to get better. To me, the sport is all about the team and how we could get better as a group," said Mateer.
Playing with the likes of Heidi Nelson, Barbie Barrett, Betsy Hudon and Wheelock, at BUHS, she helped the Colonels to a 20-2 record during her senior year in 1983.
"Playing ball did give me a sense of 'ease,' not because it helped me feel comfortable about my height but because [basketball], I believed, was a way to reach my education goals," Mateer said. "The fact that we had Janel Aquadro and Heidi Bristol, both 6-foot 1, Heidi Nelson, 5-foot-10, Ann Wheelock I think was 5-foot-8, Barbie Barrett as a point guard was 5-foot-10 ... it made me feel quite at ease and comfortable posting up, playing, making and missing shots because wow ... what an incredible line-up for a high school squad or any squad!"
Years later, Wheelock is glad she approached Mateer with that invitation.
"What I could not have known at that moment is what an amazing and wonderful person and friend Terri would be," she said. "We became instant friends, as did anybody who met her, because she is kind and sweet and funny as heck. Her heart is even bigger than her height."
"I will be forever grateful that I had the nerve to walk up to Terri because I made a lifelong friend with a gentle, loving spirit who lives life on her own terms but has never forgotten those of us she met along the way," Wheelock added.
Mateer later played at Florida State University, scoring 140 points and pulling down 134 rebounds in three seasons with the Seminoles. She later brought her talent to France, where she played one year of professional basketball. "It was awkward there ... Europeans are a little different. I couldn't agree with the culture," she said.
At the time, pro basketball in the United States wasn't an option, as the WNBA did not yet exist. "My coach at FSU, Marynell Meadors, was one of the original eight head coaches when the WNBA started in 1997," Mateer said. "I am certain I could have played for her or any other pro team had it come along earlier."
Mateer would then move to New York City to pursue acting and storytelling. She has been performing "A Kind Shot" since 2013.
"It's just me telling a story. My only prop is a basketball," she said.
Mateer said her show is 20 percent comedy, 20 percent uplifting, 20 percent heartbreaking, 20 percent informational, and 20 percent other stuff. It's 30 years of her life, covering such topics as sexual abuse and her dreams of being an architect.
"The show is very special each time," she said. "It's always new. There's always a different reaction. I'm always learning."
If you are interested in checking out Mateer's performance for free, visit akindshot.com and click on the link at the top of the page to RSVP.
Shane Covey is sports editor of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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