The story of how Xamiya Walton became the first high school athlete in Illinois with a name, image and likeness (NIL) deal began four years ago.
Xaver Walton, Xamiya’s dad, bought her a Shoot-A-Way machine for her 12th birthday. The Shoot-A-Way basically allows basketball players to go through an entire practice on their own. It counts shots, catches rebounds and makes workouts more efficient.
“It’s pretty much the second person,” Xamiya said. “Rebounder, passer — it definitely does make anything [basketball-related] easier.”
“When we got it, I sent [the company] a video of her being surprised,” Xaver Walton said. “Just to say thanks, hopefully my child will put this to use.”
She definitely did. Today, Xamiya is a junior point guard at Butler, where her father is the head coach. Xamiya has 20 offers, ranging fromthe Big Ten to the ACC to a variety of mid-majors.
She also is an enthusiastic booster of the Shoot-A-Way machine. “It’s part of my daily routine,” she said.
“When she would use Shoot-A-Way or do shooting videos, she would tag them,” Xaver Walton said.
One thing led to another, and the company and the Waltons talked about formalizing an arrangement that would allow Xamiya to profit from using something she would anyway.
The rub? How to do it without running afoul of Illinois High School Association eligibility concerns.
“It took three months of emails back and forth” to work out a plan, Xaver Walton said. Xamiya is free to endorse Shoot-A-Way and get compensated, but she cannot have any mention or branding of her high school team or the IHSA in the ads. Instead, she’s using her AAU affiliation with the Mac Irvin Lady Fire.
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Walton is the first athlete ever to come to the organization seeking an OK for a NIL deal.
“We navigated this one cautiously and it took several months [working] with our legal counsel and the family,” Anderson said.
The IHSA board of directors has discussed the issue at its August and September meetings, and Anderson expects a by-law proposal soon that would gothrough the IHSA’s annual referendum process, including town hall discussions in November.
“It’s time for us to establish some guidance much like has happened in other states,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t unexpected. When it was happening at the NCAA level, at some point we knew we’d be faced with it.”
While the IHSA wants to preserve the ideal of amateur sports, Anderson noted it’s never restricted athletes from making money in other ways, such as summer jobs.
Xamiya Walton believes NIL could help athletes in Chicago and elsewhere pay for the travel expenses that are a reality of high-level youth sports these days.
“There’s so many different brands, so many different places willing to do these things,” she said. “It opens up opportunities for so many more athletes.”