Family and Fandom are One in the Same for Maliyah Parker

Women’s basketball coach, Brittany Parker didn’t join Marist alone. She brought her sister. Something remarkable ensued.

Maliyah Parker has been a fan of every team her sister Brittany Parker has been a part of, but never quite like she is now. 

Maliyah became a fan of the Marist women’s basketball team when her sister was hired as an assistant coach, but upon meeting senior forward Willow Duffell, something special happened. A bond was instantly created. It was on that day that Maliyah Parker became a Marist superfan and Duffell’s number one supporter.

The Red Foxes were the top team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) this season, claiming the regular season championship after going 18-3 and going to the NCAA Tournament after winning the MAAC Tournament. While fans weren’t allowed at games for most of the season, the NCAA tournament allowed each coach and player to have family members in attendance. Maliyah was the biggest beneficiary, as she was now allowed to see her favorite team play in person.

Parker was hired prior to the 2019-20 season by the Red Foxes, and brought nine years of coaching and four years of college playing experience along with her. In her two seasons so far at Marist, the team was named MAAC co-champions in the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season and has now made the NCAA Tournament in her second season.        

Maliyah, a senior in high school, is 19 years old and was born when Brittany was a freshman in high school. She was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects many parts of the body and often delays growth and development.

“When you meet other people who have it, which is very rare, she just exceeds all expectations,” Brittany Parker said. “A lot of them don’t talk, can’t eat because they are forced to eat through feeding tubes. And she doesn’t do any of that.”

Maliyah is on her high school basketball team, she participates in organized sports, and she is also a cheerleader. She is the definition of a social butterfly who loves interacting with the people she meets. While many people with the disorder are unable to do things like this, she is a fighter who does not complain and lives life to the fullest, while leaving a positive impact on everyone that she interacts with.

 “She’s just a miracle, I don’t know how else to explain it,” said Parker.

The Parker sisters are extremely close, and make sure to talk every day on FaceTime, and play games together even when they are apart. Every coaching job Brittany has ever had has seen Maliyah communicating with her boss, one time saying that she can be the manager or help out with scouting and recruiting because she has free time. 

“My dream is to be a head coach, and have her work for me, and be our manager.” said Parker. “That is one of my biggest goals, because she has changed my life so much, so I know that just having her around would change the lives of the student athletes that I coach.” 

Maliyah loves the whole Red Fox team, but it is because of senior captain Willow Duffell that she is a Marist women’s basketball superfan, who makes sure to catch every game on ESPN. 

“She likes Marist obviously because I’m here, but we saw Willow at the donut shop in Beacon, with her brother and her boyfriend and ever since then Maliyah has been obsessed with Willow,” said Parker.

Duffell feels the same way about Maliyah. “It’s not even an obsession because I’m obsessed too, I love having Maliyah as my number one fan,” said Duffell.

Duffell led the Red Foxes in total points, rebounds and free throws made, while placing second on the team in minutes per game and assists. But that does not stop her from taking the time out of her day to speak with Maliyah. Most of their communication is through coach Parker. Oftentimes during the calls between the two sisters, Maliyah will ask for Willow or ask how she is doing. Despite Parker only being Duffell’s coach for almost two years, she has quickly developed an unbreakable bond with Maliyah. 

“Willow came to her Zoom birthday party, which was awesome,” said Parker. “Maliyah was so excited about it, and she tends to rewatch things, so I’ll call her, and she’ll be rewatching the Zoom footage from that day.”

As a college athlete for a Division I school, Duffell is familiar with fans cheering when things are going well. However, she is not familiar with having a fan like Maliyah, who went out of her way at a game at Quinnipiac last season to make posters for her to show support and cheer her on. 

“Fans in general are flattering, but Maliyah is totally different”, said Duffell. “She makes me so happy and is such a light in this world. Being a role model to her is super special.”

That was not the last time she showed her support for Duffell either. For Marist’s Senior Day this year, she made a collective video for all the seniors and Duffell’s highlights made up a large portion of the video. Additionally, with the NCAA tournament providing six tickets to each player and coach for friends and family, Parker had Maliyah, her mom, sisters, and nephew in attendance when the team faced off against Louisville on Monday, March 22. 

“She was preparing a sign for Duffell for the NCAA Tournament, that says President of the Willow Duffell Fan Club,” said Parker.

Edited by Connor Kurpat and Bridget Reilly

Photo Credit: Brittany Parker

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