Janiya Townes-Wakefield

School: Cheltenham



Favorite athlete:   Kahleah Cooper

Favorite team:   Villanova Women’s Basketball Team

Favorite memory competing in sports: I don’t have a specific favorite memory. I am grateful for all the times I got to travel, meet new people, and form friendships all while playing the sport I love. 

Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Coming down on defense during the opposing teams fast break. I was too late to block or stop her so I screamed. 

Music on Playlist:   My music is versatile. Old school, pop, rap, gospel, R&B are some genres. 

Future plans:   Attend Gwynedd Mercy University and obtain my bachelors degree in Radiation Therapy

Words to live by: INTEGRITY

One goal before turning 30:   Take my mom on a vacation

One thing people don’t know about me: I was a dancer and gymnast for a long time. 


You get one chance to make a first impression. The saying may be tried but remains true.

Such was the case for Janiya Townes-Wakefield when, as an eighth-grader, she walked into an open gym workout and caught the eyes of a coaching staff determined to change the culture.

“She is just a ball of joy,” said head coach Ben Bowman. “We met Janiya in her eighth grade year. She came in just ready to learn and ready to work and play basketball. You could tell, just from meeting her, that her personality and her energy was infectious.”

“It helped change the culture of the team.”

More than displaying a skill set, it was her attitude and willingness to be coached that grabbed their attention.

“She came in and just never stopped working, never stopped talking,” said Bowman, now in his fifth season. “We have been teaching defense since we first came in, and she was the first one to talk on defense, the first one to yell, and to just do what we wanted to do. A lot of people weren’t on board right away, but this kind of changed their minds. This young girl comes in and is already on board, hustling her butt off and being willing to do whatever it takes.

“That was the first impression. For her to come into an open gym and show that kind of an effort and determination, when she was so young, stood out to us because there were some veteran people on that team.”

Team Mother

Since then, she has not disappointed. Injuries, like a broken foot as a freshman and illnesses through to this season, have kept Townes-Wakefield from being a regular starter.

“Just this year, I was out of school for like three weeks,” she said. “I was coughing, throwing up and had headaches. I just had so much hitting me at once. Recently, I was out again with a stomach virus. That kicked me for a bit. Now, that I’m back, I’ve jammed – and possibly sprained -- two of my fingers on the same hand.

“This season, it has just kept coming. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. It’s frustrating. There is stuff going on with other players being injured and I want to be able to step up, but you can only step so much.”

But she always remained at the epicenter of the team.

 “She has been through all the ups and downs – the one-win seasons, the tough losses,” said Bowman. “She has seen it all. She has been part of that rebuild that we have been going through, and she is still the same. She keeps trying to pick is up, and it’s not just with the players but with the coaches. She comes in and tells us jokes. She is always trying to pick everybody else up.

“This season, we’re up and down. We’re a young team. She is one of the few seniors on the team. I feel like she keeps the team together, and it’s been tough for her, too, because has been sick. When she’s not there, the team feels it.”

And, when she is there, the presence is clearly felt.

“She is like the team mother,” said Bowman. “She picks everybody up. She will call team meetings. She does the intangible stuff that goes a long way, and goes beyond what we can do as coaches.

“She leads by example. She’s a captain this year, and it’s not only because of what she does, verbally, but also on the court. If we tell her to do something, we know she is going to do it.

“She will do anything you ask. She may not be the most skilled player but, when you look at everything else she brings to the table, it’s something you just can’t find. We want them to talk on defense, she is the first one talking. She’s the loudest voice in the gym, whether it is in practice or games. Everybody kind of just follows her lead. She will just do whatever it takes. She will do whatever is best for the team, and that we love about her.”

Townes-Wakefield, who started playing basketball after giving up gymnastics in sixth grade, explains that she is just being herself.

“I just try to be positive all the time, and I just rub off on other people,” she said, kind of giggling at being termed the “team mother” by the coach. “Communication is a big thing for me. I like to make sure everybody is on the same page.”

Code of Living

PRIDE is an acronym, and Townes-Wakefield had chosen to focus on the “I” part of it.

It stands for integrity, which is how she lives her life – not only on the court but off the court.

“It means to do your best and do what’s right, even if no one is watching,” she explained. “Not everybody does that.”

While basketball takes up a lot of her time, Townes-Wakefield is strong in the classroom as well.

On the Honor Roll, she was named Student of the Month in October and carries a weighted GPA of 4.36.

“It opened up a lot of scholarship opportunities, so that was pretty good,” she said, adding that Thomas Jefferson and Howard, along with some schools in Atlanta, were among those under consideration.

However, she plans to attend Gwynedd Mercy University, which was always her top choice, and follow in the footsteps of her mother, Calisa Townes, and become a Radiation Therapist.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to do what my mom did,” she said. “As I grew, I learned more about what she did as a radiation therapist, and it was definitely what I wanted to do.

“I like being around people, helping them feel better and being a part of their recovery.”

While her basketball at Gwynedd Mercy may only be limited to intramural, she will look fondly on all the sport has brought her.

“When I first played basketball, I played for my community local league, and then I played AAU and we would go out of state and stay at hotels and see all the teams play and go out to eat and bond more,” she said. “You learn that basketball is like small world unto itself, and I’m grateful to have experienced that.”

Townes-Wakefield wanted to thank all her coaches and teammates (not only at Cheltenham but with club teams), teachers, older sister (Jayana Townes-Wakefield), younger brother (Zion Perry),  father (Justin Wakefield), her grandmother (Teresa Thomas – and her doctors -- for their support over the years.

But mom, as a single mom, tops the list.

She would like to repay her one day with a nice vacation.

“My mom does a lot for me,” she said. “She pays for everything I need. She supports me. She deals with my annoying behavior. Before I’m 30, before I’m paying for my own car and my own house, I want to take her on a vacation to somewhere nice so she can just relax for like a week or two.”